Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
|Outrunning the Storm|
|A Felony of Birds|
|The Dreaming Fire|
Faultless part 2
They housed her among the old ones, who moved and thought slowly with the weight of their years heavy within them. They preferred their days long and quiet and had developed a compound of their own. She was locked in a square room with one window, a table, one desk and chair, a thin bed in the corner to sleep on. They allowed her all the light she could use. Three of the eldest Wise Ones brought the book wrapped in gold veined cloth. With graceful hands they revealed it on the desk in front of her.
“Read.” He said, sliding his fingers under the black letters indenting the vibrant cover.
“Studies of Creation and the Repercussion.”
He nodded and set her hands on it and sent a piercing look to the others. They nodded their acknowledgement and acceptance. “What does the first page say?”
“Your Creator wrote this guidebook before he left the planet of Perfection, so proud of his last creation he no longer felt the need to create another. This book is for those who can read it, my seed. As you read, keep in mind, you are a Creator and with that ability have many responsibilities to your creations and those of others. Be very prudent of what you make because once something is created, it cannot be undone by you. Only by itself and others.
I left this guide so you might not make the same mistakes I have made. That you might learn from mine and the others before you. Please read completely before you construct a living organism. Your Creator wishes you satisfaction in your journey.”
Flushed with emotion, her voice crumpled and couldn’t pronounce the last word fully. She looked into the three pairs of identical, beautifully reflective eyes and saw wonder and comprehension.
The eldest nodded. “Yes, you are a creator. We cannot read this book, only you. You will need time to read it and we will give it to you.”
The Wise Ones closed the door behind them, clicking the lock in place. It had been decided between them in the seconds after she read the cover, to keep her here from now on.
Left in the small room, no longer allowed to run the carefully cultivated countryside, she was let out twice a day, to eat and walk with the old ones. The beauty of the sun shining its crystal light which, depending on the time of day, was a delicate hue of gold, coral, violet, or cobalt. By its light she read the book
She longed to swim, leap and sing as the days passed. The old ones, content with their slow and easy pace, would shake their heads and chuckle as she bounced ahead and ran circles around them. In general, they were indulgent with the young. But immature Creators were of an unknown variety, so they gazed out the corners of their eyes at her for any sign that she might spontaneously create, something she desired to do with increased frequency as time grew long.
Bored to just past bearing during her torturous walks with the old ones, after the marks of time in her room reading and re-reading the complex text, she thought of creation. The reams of pictures and names inside the book were fascinating, with creatures and forms of life she’d never seen before. But her head would feel stuffed with cloth after trying to diagram how they’d moved, worked, or played.
The basics of conception were said to be innate within her, all she needed was an intention. This sounded easy but there were many complications, an infinite number it seemed. She despaired of getting them straight, much less thinking of all to begin with.
But the need for other surroundings and the instinct to create was irresistible. So she fell back to what she was comfortable with, and gathered pigments of rock, clay, and chalk to hide in her pocket during her walks with the old ones. It soon became a way recreate a world.
Mixed with oil and smeared on the walls, she made sky, grass, light, rocks, and dirt appear so real, they moved in the indigo night. When she first began, she imitated the same effects and textures of the world around her but after a while she mixed the colors into different colors and shapes into new shapes. She created something she’d never seen before, something crisply original. Soon her walls were covered with strange creatures in luscious worlds, all unknown and, as yet unnamed.
On Perfection, the Faultless had no names, at least, none given. There was no need when everyone grew into the knowledge of a trade. It became their title, such as Landscaper, Bookmaker, Builder, etc. As children, before it was apparent, they called each other Friend. If a child was born into a family of weavers who had an interest in agriculture, there was an easy shift in households before it transformed.
There was never an over abundance. No hate, anger, sadness was harbored, for everyone was where they belonged, safe and comfortable. Death never came before readiness nor was anyone born before they were wanted. In fact, it took a death in a trade house to have another birth, so population remained consistent.
The weather on Perfection was predictable with sunshine during the day and rainfall for thirty-eight marks after midnight. Lush drops that landed soft as tears, lasting just long enough for the natural osmosis of the oceans to clear and keep the vegetation healthy. Food was plentiful with enough variety to be both nutritious and delicious, for nothing grew that was poisonous or ever rotted.
There were animals for food and pets. The food animals kept the vegetation at just the right level of trim. They were passive and self terminated in sleep when they were mature. Everything was ideal, in place and name. All was of unadulterated purity.
But something was amiss she felt uneasiness sand just below her skin. Knew the world was suffocating for something vital, refreshing, so she painted the walls of her room and desired to name. The manual stated, in bold terms, a name must always come last. The naming of something concluded development and called it into existence, but there may be Repercussions. Almost always, there was at least one you’d missed considering before it happened.
The word, Repercussion, came up continuously and she began to dislike it, a feeling she’d never experienced before her confinement, but one she was getting accustomed to. She learned to despise, beginning with the wise and then onto the old. Resentment grew for the ones who were free to do as they pleased and weren’t shut away in a room and made to read for days on end.
It wasn’t as if the book failed to hold interest. It was fascinating in many ways and resonated deeply within her core. Being forced though, irritated. She felt shackled to her room, to the book. She ceased going outdoors for walks and took her food in the room.
The old ones, being unused to anything malfunctioning, let her do as she willed, thinking Creators must be different, not needing to socialize or to see the sun. After all, it made everything easier not having to observe her. She was left alone to draw new things and develop new feelings.
Finally, there came a time she decided to name something, just a little thing. A very small mammal she could keep in her pocket and would lend her company. She’d grown a new feeling, loneliness, and wanted someone to share her secrets with. So she drew it tiny, with gray fur, pink feet and nose, round ears, and a long silky tail. She made the eyes large and dark; unlike own her light resplendent ones.
Following the rules of the manual, she thought of how it would live, mate and reproduce, what it would eat, would breathe and should feel. She also made it to like living in her pocket but come out to play whenever pleased. She made it shy of other people and to hide from them, for she knew they’d fear. It should breath the same air and although fully able to reproduce, it would need another of its species to do so, and she wouldn’t make another. The manual stated she should take in account everything created would adjustt to the environment in time and make sure the adaptations would be acceptable. To be safe she decided to keep the life span short, only one cycle, just enough time to get to enjoy but not long enough for it to evolve.
But she’d have to be cautious, for the guidebook warned that creating life strictly from a painting had Repercussions such as weakness, early death, and an intrinsic separation from other forms of life. Though she understood this, making it from scratch and growing from cell structure would take ages. She’d have to wait for spans! Even speeded up, it would take 100’s of cycles for it to develop and then, might not develop the way she planned.
In evolution, many attributes could become modulated during incubation. One had to examine and foresee the imminent changes. She would have to maintain control of all mutations, an exhausting idea and far too time consuming. Besides, she’d have to begin somewhere and painting is something she enjoyed. She thought for two days on what to call the animal she’d painted and finally settled for Pandi. She named it aloud.
The symbol on her forehead began to glow so bright that its shape shone back at her and off the painted wall. The depicted mammal whooshed and popped with electricity and tiny particles of life adjusted and fluttered into it. Her skin began to itch, first the forehead and then it spread to the rest of her face. Reaching, she touched and found a thin layer of hair had sprouted on the edges of her face and cheeks. As she brought her hands down she saw that the backs of them were covered with a fine growth of turquoise hair that had traveled up her arms and down the sides of her body, flowing over the tops of her feet.
The shining symbol on the wall suddenly burst out an unbearable beam aimed directly into her stomach, just below her ribs. Looking down, she could see it extraordinarily bright on her bare skin where it roiled slightly, as if molten. When the wall had gone dark once more, the Pandi moved.
It puffed into three dimensions and walked down the wall, a little stiffly at first and then with more ease. Running up her leg, using the new downy hair to grip with precisely miniature hands and feet, it rapidly flicked into her pocket. She, like all beings on the planet Perfection, had a pocket in the lower belly. It was the perfect place to carry small objects and when they were adults, where their young nested until they could walk and swim on their own.
Above the almost invisible seam of her pocket, the radiant glow of the symbol faded leaving a dusty purple shadow burnt into her skin. She cupped the slight lump of the hidden Pandi. Crooning tenderly, she opened the pocket and called it. With a rush of joy intense as pain, she watched it crawl out and settled into her palm.
She held out a seed and it delicately plucked it from her fingers and nibbled with rapid ticks of the silk tail. Completed and suffused with love, she danced the bare floor, holding her hand steadily out in front so as to watch the small life eat and move with wondrous solidity.
Before the cycle was over, she couldn’t bear the thought of parting with her Pandi. Alone almost all the time now, her food was dropped casually outside her door. Nobody came to check if she was happy or if she’d finished the book…she hadn’t, but had made it halfway through. They’d set aside their problem, her, and hoped she’d adjust into the perfection of the rest of their lives.
She played with her creation, watching it run and leap high into the air. She slept with it cuddled in her hand. She loved the Pandi and it was devoted to her but she learned sadness. For though it perceived joy in her presence, it was lonely for another. She could share its feelings but it didn’t sense hers. And while she felt no lack, it did.
One sunrise, she discovered something cold and stiff in the corner of her pocket, it had died early, before time. Eyes burning, she watched it turn into dust as a sunbeam warmed her hand. She brushed her palms together, the dust glinting in the light from her window and picked up her paintbrush. This time she would create two Pandi and they would love her as well as each other. She’d be careful, they would be of the same gender and therefore unable to reproduce, there could be no wrong in it.
Under the radiance of her symbol they grew into existence and leapt gleefully into her pocket. She noticed that the burnt shadow of the symbol above the edge of her pocket had gone a deeper shade when she opened it to peek inside. They scrambled out, the Pandi were jubilant with love. They ricocheted and spun, dancing across her floor together and with her.
A knock at her door froze them all a mark before they ran up her leg to hide in her pocket.
“Come in.” she called, after she’d sat at her desk in front of the open book.
A Wise One entered, the youngest. He eyed the murals on her walls and ceilings before speaking. “I was wondering how well you comprehend the book. You have been here for a long time now.”
“Yes. I have more to read.” She tried not to let the hurt of her exclusion, her rejection by them, sound in her voice.
But he must have heard something, for he swung his delicate head in her direction and studied with his refractive eyes. She kept her face still, clenching her hands under the top of the desk.
“You have changed.”
She said nothing her eyes steady on his.
“You no longer take walks with the old ones.”
“No. I find them too slow.” As an afterthought, she added, “I have much to read.”
He nodded, knowing the urge for knowledge. It is what drove a Wise One, although never past the point of health.
“You still need the sun. I see that you have transformed into a full Creator. You look more like our Creator now, the same beautiful hair.”
“I am a Creator.”
He bowed slightly in acknowledgment of the rightness of her statement. “Although you have yet to create?”
She thought to lie but instead raised her hand to offer the sweep of walls to him, “There is creation of a sort.”
He circled the room, examining the walls, the colors, textures, and shapes. “Yes, of a sort. They are almost alive. They are beautiful. Do they keep you happy, even away from the ocean?”
At the mention of the ocean, she felt loss grip her gut. She’d made do with daily soaks in a tub of water under a window but she missed the shifting colors and temperatures of the ocean. The ocean was the birthplace of the Faultless, her birthplace. She remembered her struggle to find the shore, a pink tadpole whipping its whole body in desperation to reach the surface. Once there, she’d floated on the blossoming, sun warmed waves. Euphoria.
Eyes prickling, she blinked and thought to leave her room for the first time since her self-imposed solitude. Well, almost self-imposed. They’d put her here, allowing only a slow walk with the Elders twice a day, giving her just enough of a taste of freedom to let her know how starved she was for it. The daily reminder of the rest of the world was more painful then to ignore it altogether. Unconsciously she placed a hand on the lumps of Pandi under her skin and rubbed them softly. She knew they couldn’t feel her pain. She felt it for them.
The Wise One was watching her. She stopped her hand and lifted it to brush the hair off her forehead and stood. “I am fine. I would have a swim in the ocean, it has been a long time and I have not lost the joy for it with my transformation.”
“What have you learned from the book?” He asked, ignoring her request.
“To be careful.”
He met her eyes a mark before turning to the door. “That is good. You may go for a swim in the ocean but not far from shore. Divers will go with you.” With those words he clicked it shut and locked.
Her swallow echoed the snick as it closed off. Why did he think she’d be satisfied to be locked away forever and allowed a dip in the ocean once in awhile? She had created. It was more than any of them had done or could do. Ever. Snapping the covers of the book closed, she threw it after him. Crackling pages, like the wings of white birds, flew until it crashed and slid down the door onto the floor. A shock of shame flooded her face. She ran and rescued the book, examining the damage. It seemed unharmed and she set it in its place on the desk, smoothing the pages with her hands.
The Pandi squeaked and peeked their heads out. Climbing up her stomach and to her shoulder, they sniffed her lips with cold noses, making her laugh. They ate a bowl of oatmeal together that night for dinner and slept in a nest of her hair on the pillow next to her head. She was content for now.
On waking with the first light, she knew she would see the ocean that day. The Pandi would have to stay behind, for they couldn’t swim. She made a place for them under her bed with the shredded cloth of a rainbow scarf. They slept happily, although they sprang for her pocket when a bang on the door sounded. She tried to block them with her hands but they were too quick and she had to let them be while she answered the knock.
A diver stood, lit by the sun, webbed hands restless as his double lidded eyes widened at the sight of her. He didn’t know how to react. She looked like the Creator but she wasn’t, for their Creator was a male, she was female. He started to sink to his knees but stopped awkwardly in mid-bend before straightening and coughing in the back of his throat.
“I am here to take you to the ocean.”
He smelled of it and she breathed in his scent before answering. “If you will wait outside a mark. I will come with you.”
Closing the door, she pulled the Pandi from her pocket and set them in their nest. “You will be safe here. Nobody will find you.” Being their Creator, they listened, and knew she would return.
Refreshed by the salty ocean, she opened the door. Hearing the lock click behind her, she rushed to the bed and reached for the nest. It was empty. Allowing the shreds of cloth to fall from her hands, she sent out a silent call. Pandi. There was no answer. No feeling. Only emptiness in the spot of her mind they’d occupied. What had happened? She scanned the room, searching for evidence. Her book was different and it was opened to a later page.
Someone had touched her book.
The Pandi knew better, although they liked to chew paper, they avoided her book. Had someone found them? What did they do? The empty spot within her frightened her. The thought of them dying or killed sent her into a whirl.
How dare they? Anger replaced the fear and she slammed her feet against the floor with each step and snatched up her brush. A day of painting later, she threw it across the room, splattering the window with a streak of dark.
Waiting for it to dry, she paced the floor. No longer having the energy to stomp, the force of rage itself kept her moving. When the sunset scratched the edge of the sky into balmy peach and lavender, she stopped at the window and watched it darken into indigo.
Then, in slow grace, she picked up her book and walked through the door. For there was a door there no longer, she’d painted it out. She colored it to be the same as what was already on the outside, as if it was a window with no glass. An emptiness is what she created. She walked with swift, long steps, swinging her hips, clutching the book to her chest. She didn’t want to slide it into her now more than empty pocket. Not yet.
Nobody came out of the houses she went by. No one noticed her passing. It was night and everyone was sleeping.
She felt redeemed, remade, and free to be herself, a fist of anger. A tingle in the empty spot of her mind halted her in mid stride. She could feel them far ahead. They were afraid. Lost. She called but they didn’t know how to reach her and their fear amplified into panic. Knowing they’d come to harm, she told them to calm. She’d find them. They shushed.
Walking into the dark hills, she listened to the rustle of the grasses against her legs as she felt for her creations. Beneath the dirt, that’s where they were. Stopping and kneeling, she felt over the ground. Her fingers found the crack they fallen in. Scooping out the dirt and cupping it in her webbed hands before tossing it to the side, she made fast progress. They were hurt.
One had a broken leg but hopped happily as it sighted her. She helped them into her pocket and walked away from her prison. No longer would she stay. From now on she would live how she wanted, outside in the fresh air and they would have to deal with it.
The Pandi were excited and restless, scrambling back and forth, up and down within her pocket. The one with the broken leg couldn’t feel his pain this close to her and was probably doing more damage with every move. She shushed and caressed the lumps of them against her skin. Feeling the increased moisture in the air, she searched for shelter. It would be rain time soon.
Coming upon a shed for storing hay, she crept inside, suddenly tired, and covered herself with a thin layer of straw. Falling asleep to the soft plops of rain, she let joy sparkle through her body. She was free.
Waking with the first ray of white light too young yet to gain another hue, she found one Pandi curled against her neck. The other was cold in her warm pocket and turned to dust in the palm of her hand as she pulled it out. Saddened, she thought of the paints she’d left behind. Maybe she should go back and get them. A shudder passed through her. No! They’d try to trap her and if they knew of the Pandi they would take away her paints anyway. She’d have to grind more, for the last Pandi would become lonely for a playmate.
She asked it why they’d left the room. Had quick impressions of footsteps, scraping of furniture, flipping of paper and a mummer of voices. When the bed shifted and bulged with weight as someone sat, they panicked and ran out the door, searching for her. They’d smelt her scent and followed as best they could. But other scents called to them and they got lost exploring and fell into the dark crack of dirt. She stroked it with a finger, enjoying the silky fur, while she soothed.
She might stay in the shed for a couple of days. There’d be no one around until later in the season for the hay. She’d find plenty of food. It grew everywhere, after all this was Perfection. Settling the Pandi in her pocket she left the shed, shaking the stray straw from her hair, she stretched to her full height and spread her arms wide. The air was fresh and moist with morning. Dew pearled berries were fat on the vine that climbed the side of the shed. They dropped into her hand at her touch and burst in the mouth, sweet with juice, when she crushed them against her tongue.
Cherished by her surroundings, she relaxed in the melting sun. Soon it would be too drying to lay on the translucent grass in full light but there was plenty of shade in the orchard further down when the time came. She could hear the bell like tinkle of the leaves in the gentle breeze and the orange globes of fruit danced with a light bonging sound that said they were almost ready to be harvested. Wait, she would have to be careful. The harvesters would be here soon. Would they look in the shed? Probably not… unless they’re looking for her.
It felt dangerous here all of a sudden this close to town, she sat up and swept the fields with her gaze. They were empty of Faultless but she was sure she was no longer safe. Opening the shed, she crept into the dimness and sat behind a bale, her back against the wall. Waiting for the change that would confirm her feeling, she held her breath. As the wind shifted the grass like underwater weeds, she hiccupped, releasing the held air and startled the Pandi sniffing around her feet. It leapt into her pocket and shivered. She could feel the loneliness already budding within it.
The island. She could go there for nobody but her and her lost friend had ever. He’d become one of them and he’d no longer be able to go. It was a good distance from civilization and none of the Faultless wanted to be far from their families even if they could yet swim after transformation. But how to take the Pandi with her? Considering, she was flooded with solutions but none of them could hold up to further analysis. Growing restless, she leapt to her feet and inched the door open.
The sky was blonde and the sun had begun to pick up a bit of apricot. It was still early morning. She could hike to the ocean, keeping to the blue foliage of the ruby berry shrubs that lined the fields.
Pocketing the book and moving her Pandi into the hollow of her neck and shoulder, she stole out the door. She felt a moment of panic, knowing her turquoise hair would practically vibrate in contrast with the skyline. Crouching and hiding for the first time in her life, she skimmed through the grass. Still slick with dew, it made an ideal slide for her feet and she glided downhill, pushing one foot and then the other forward, skating, and keeping the bushes between herself and the town.
Kissed with buttercup yellow, the sky showed her that she’d made excellent time. The ocean was deep gold with apricot shadows and her skin itched to dive but she had the Pandi to think of and a problem to solve. Kicking the sand into a shimmer with each step, she pondered, watching the fizzling edge of the water sweep forward and back, leaving a dark wavering pattern behind. Inspiration burst and she bent, slipping her hands in the coolness, and cupped a puddle of water.
Bringing it to her lips she blew air just under the surface, at first she only rumpled it. So she aimed the air more precisely, breaking the smallest point of the tension membrane as possible. The water bulged and then sprayed into the air. Refusing to be daunted, she shook the beads of moisture from her hands and bent again.
Holding more water this time, it wobbled and slumped over the small bowl of her hands, vibrating with each heartbeat. Pursing her mouth into a funnel, she tightened her solar plexus and let the pressurized air pierce the surface tension. A sea bird screamed a warning and she blew too hard, a bubble built and broke into a splatter across her face.
Divers were coming to gather seaweed, she could hear their traveling chant floating over the hill behind her. She might just have enough time, but she’d only have one chance before they spotted her. Scooping another round of water, she concentrated on thickening the barrier between it and the air, on the increasing the pull of each particle until it quivered like gel. Pointing her breath, she nudged an opening and blew a trembling string of air. Rainbows smeared across the bubble as it bloomed, rippling and veering around the circumference as it became more transparent. When it was large enough, she stopped her breath and allowed the particles to reattach. The water bubble perched, too fragile, caressing her palm. Now how to get the Pandi in?
The rhythmic chant of the divers was much louder. They had to be at the bottom of the other side of the hill. Anxiety pulsed through her veins, sparking her movements into quickness and she lost the bubble. It floated from her hand into a free fall toward the sand where it would surely rupture against the sharp grains of crystal.
Swiftly as a birds wing, her hand skimmed the air below and it bounced harmlessly, once again, off her palm. Sweat prickled and the chanting song of the divers banged through her brain. She had to concentrate. She had to hurry. She was a Creator. It was supposed to mean something, and if anyone could do this, she could. Sweat was running in rivulets, parting the delicate hair along her cheeks into darker trails that ran down her neck and chest. She focused the energy of her feelings; fear, hurt, and desperation into the bubble. It trembled as a ray of light from the symbol on her forehead caught and held it in its grip. The beam condensed and burnt a hole into the thickened wall. Snatching the Pandi from her shoulder, she sent it serene thoughts and tumbled it into the bubble.
Catching her breath, traveling chant bashing her ears, she watched the hole meld together under the hot light and waited for the miniature explosion of a rupture. It held.
The Pandi was slumbering under the force of her need for it to remain calm and curled into a ball, silky tail draped across its pink nose. Protecting the bubble in the prayer of her hands, she dove so swiftly and effortlessly that the water sliced and parted like pudding. As it closed over her, she whipped her legs in an undulating motion, shooting forward, sea boiling in her wake.
The divers topping the hill noticed the seething lace of a large wave bank and retreat. Seeing the flip of a turquoise foot as a sea creature, maybe a sucker ready to become food was shoring itself, they thought no more of it. They could grab it later, but right now, it was time to gather seaweed, fresh from the bottom of the ocean.
Thirty days on the island and the Pandi died. She’d made another playmate for it out of clay, and with her
increased skill at creating, gave it enough life to survive until the other’s natural end. She’d lost her need for them because she had her freedom back and could create whatever, read whenever, and swim impulsively.
After a year she was radiant with health, hair silky and longer at the head, with tufts at the elbows and heels. Her muscles were sleek under the turquoise fur of her body from the frequent swims into the ocean.
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Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
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