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    Default lungs

    Spoiler:
    pokemon: zoroark
    CC: ~ 33k


    I want something, big-much bad especially for me

    to be a part of the human race
    With my last breath, I need to tell you a big secret

    I loved you all this time
    ///

    Martha wraps her hand around my inner thigh.

    Her voice melts into my ear, words slipping down the canals to pool into me. “Don’t be afraid,” she says, squeezing, looking away from me to peer into velvet unknown. Outside of this spacecraft there’s an infinite blanket of stars and moons combusting unto themselves, leaving us in the shallow pools of their dead darkness. Forever sprawls from one place to the next outside of here. But for a second I can pretend it’s just me and Martha close here together. Maybe from now until the end of time.

    A shade splits off from the space between us. From her into me it seeps as she squeezes: her depression and anxiety. She tells me to not be afraid, but her voice quakes; her heart rattles and throbs, sending shockwaves down into me. I lean back in the leather upholstery, taking it as my eyes dart from one shooting star to the next. The big, black void. One minute passes with Martha’s emotions flooding into my bloodstream in a paralyzing rush. I know the black holes out here better than I’ll ever know her.

    Martha takes her hand off me, finally looks into my eyes. Freckles splatter her face, a light blush lighting up the tiny spaces between them. They’re like stars speckled across an infinite galaxy: and Martha too, with all her emotions, is a universe that lives in me now.

    “I’m not,” I lie, folding all her emotions further into me. It’s not time to release them yet. I’m Voodoo, a djinn for the demons that torment all the people I love. Strangers and my masters use me to absorb all their emotions because I have the greatest capacity for them of all our people. I’ll eat Martha’s pain and anxiety until I blow. That’s how friendship works, right?

    She takes my hand in hers, warm blue veins barely catching the artificial light above. My wrists are shaking. Three more minutes until the emotions fully swell under me; three more minutes until we settle onto the new planet.

    “Martha,” the captain, her father, roars under his breath. I don’t look up to face him. The jaded aged man made of forty years and countless wrinkles has no emotions on his being. He blasts them all into me. I’m obviously not a good vessel, because there’s a layer of visceral hatred slicing through his apathy. He tries not to look at me either. He knows he needs me, which makes us both hate ourselves even more. I’ll take that in later too.

    “He’s a human too, Dad,” Martha rattles off. There’s no eye roll. There’s no hatred in her voice because now I have enough for lifetimes of it for me and Martha to share. Thanks to me, she only feels dazed, stupid wonder. In her big brown eyes, the settlement planet draws closer and closer, a round red orb forming the rest of our lives.

    “May Starlight be with us,” Martha’s mom prays, glazed eyes lost in the great unknown. “May the Voodoo be blessed for their sacrifice unto us. May we live for eternity with full control over our race.” The words come from the iron core of her, a human heart drained of fear, loathing, wanting. To want was the first and biggest cardinal sin. To need anything other than oneself in this life was the next biggest hurt.

    Martha’s mom is a saint among us: face drained of any emotion, eyes lit up with artificial peace, skin died in an eucalyptus bath to numb her senses for the next ten years to come. These days, I see her in Martha.

    Martha’s father intertwines fingers with his wife, only for Martha to place her free hand on the back of her father’s controller. The vibrant rings of the planet immerse us like a giant flaming crown welcoming the vestiges of the human race.

    ///

    “Happy birthday,” I whisper into her hair. Everything from her past life has been brought to this room in shiny steel capsules: her clothes tossed to the closet, her stuffed animals strewn across the room, her photographs scattered across the floor. Martha’s eyes glow bright, despite there being no actual cake or candle. This is the fail birthday present. Her father promised her a planet and all I could get was something that barely fits in the palm of my hand.

    Regardless, she takes my offering and marvels it like a cosmos in her hand. “Malachi,” she breathes out, legs curling further onto the spacey white furniture of this new space. There are no words anywhere else in this home at this hour; we toss our hushed breaths back and forth to each other like their own gifts, little lights in the dark of this universe. Humanity enjoys its first night of a new interstellar conquest.

    “Make a wish,” I tell her, gently wrapping my fingers over her own. “What could it be that you want?”

    The giddy teenage dream in a sleeping gown wraps her free hand around mine real tight, shutting her eyes and opening them. A star has opened up somewhere in space, her prayer sung to it, though I’ll never hear it or understand what’s happening in her soul. Martha rips off the wrapping, the bright, vibrant paper falling to the floor like embers rippling across the steel.

    But when she opens her eyes, there is no awe. Her hot curiosity dulls before my eyes as she pokes and prods at the remnants. A mini leather journal sits in the cradle of her hands, unexamined, faded already beyond repair.

    “It’s a journal,” I quickly supply, using my index finger to thumb past the first page. “You were always interested in stars, Martha. I thought you could draw what you saw from the porch here,” I started, gazing at the vast unknown outside of us. “Or you could write about what it makes you feel.”

    Innocence and unknowing fight for dominance in her eyes. “But I have you for my feelings.” Martha, loving Martha, tries to piece comprehension together but the blocks fall away each time she has a new one in her hands. “Why would I need to write them down, too?”

    I’ve utterly failed. Martha senses my distress, lunging for my hand and snuggling her head into my neck. I still feel a bit cold.

    “But I adore this!” she starts, flipping through the blank canvas of pages as if trying to conjure a new art piece on each one. “Hey, you remembered how much I love books! ‘Sis what it’s about, huh Malachi? This looks like the perfect book you wanted me to write.” My eyes wander over to the small, unopened steel capsule holding books as their prisoner. Over the course of a year, I watched her evolve from a busy bookworm to a social butterfly who made better friends with humans just like her, not words. As she relied on me more and more to take her sadness, the characters in all those beautiful stories became less relatable. Less interesting. A sad smile coated her face as she looked at me in her attempt to assuage my own awkwardness.

    When I said nothing, she wrapped a free hand around my shoulder, leaning into my side. “Hey, you remember that 1981 Earth Universe 2 classic you really liked? The Fox and the Hound?” She breathed in softly, looking up at me with exuberant eyes. “Tell me that one again, Malachi.”

    The humans of Universe 2 engineered a tale of love and defeat, all through animals. Ironically I felt like a dog telling its master to throw a bone just so I could fetch it - but the hedonistic truth in the chase was that nowadays, I identified with that book better than I ever could with Martha. Maybe there was a Universe 7 or Universe 134, or any one between all these complex and varied universes, where Martha and I were mirror images bookworm-butterflies. Maybe it was never meant to be, since we could never both be human.

    “Copper the hunting dog leaps in front of Todd the fox to save his friend from being shot…” I read into the night, reciting the book’s events from my heart. Martha leans steadily further into the sheets, melting as moonlight calls to her even this far from the last departed planet. Humans from eons ago said that there was no greater moon and sun than that on Earth; and humans also say that those before the age of Voodoo will never understand what it meant to feel the fury of the sun.

    “Todd knew Copper was becoming too busy of a hunting dog to go on their adventures,” I said, then quirked my head. Did I tell the story from the ending to the beginning? My eyes scanned the room as if looking for the words suspended in mid air. When my midnight gaze finally connected with something, red and purple slashed across the inky fabric of space. My mind did a double take, swearing that I heard more: the low crying of a beast in a register unknown to me. When I looked down, Martha was sound asleep. I continued reading from my memory.

    At some point, Martha speaks with words reeled from the deepest parts of her consciousness. “Hey, to write down your feelings… is that what you would want, Malachi? Because I’ll tell you what I want more often.”

    “I don’t want anything,” I gently remind her, setting my princess to sleep. Her surrender to somnolence was enough to ward away the previous incident. Maybe this was all part of being a Voodoo: experiencing a new hallucination every day, a call on the horizon, watching foxes burst out of shadows because I was more animal than man. I sighed, pressing a kiss on her forehead.

    Voodoo were created to cradle the sins of fragile souls. We ingest animosity like a golden apple; fear, revulsion, and pain are known better to us than our own emotions. I am not human, not animal. I am nothing.

    I neither want nor need.

    ///

    “Malachi, help me, help me!” she screeches in the loveliest of tones. “I can’t breathe!” she lies, pretend choking as she rolls onto the linoleum floor. Reflected in the oval bay windows is a girl, limitless with laughter, auburn hair splayed across the shoulders of her turtleneck. The world outside could never hope to be so bright.

    “Anything, Lady Martha.” My voice is dignified and deep as I go to scoop her off from the floor. Her father’s in the room adjoined by the tubular hallway, listening to every word I say. Humans are under the impression that because they can control their emotions, their physical capabilities have been extended. A trade of heart for head. I’ll humor the old man, because I think this will make Martha happy.

    “I’ll be there whenever you need me, Martha.” This time it’s to make her happy.

    “My savior,” she sings as my hand scoops her up. She dances in a delightful swing unto me, pressing herself close to my chest. “I knew I could always count on you.” Those words are much more soft, followed by three fingers dangling in my curly hair. I blink. I took the silly joy out of her, but something else entirely sweeps into her soul. Her words from a week ago creep into my memory, and it’s too late to move away -

    I hear her father before I see him: the towering, hulking beast who can’t even carry his own regret. Donned in a disheveled polo and slack pants, he already tells me how the first week of intergalactic space settlement is going. Martha mirrors his annoyance with her disdain, mouth opened into an ‘o,’ as if confused that her goading her father by demonstrating affection to me is a surprise to her. It’s a surprise to anyone that I should be treated as anything other than an object, a dirty vessel for their sins.

    “A word with it,” he shouts into the living room. I think I’m happy, because for a second I can relate to that supposed human feeling of my existence flashing before my eyes; I see outside of myself, this slouching teenage thing with curly ringlets of hair and a black T that’s slightly too big for me. Martha got me these jeans, and Martha’s distressed with the sight of her father yanking my shirt’s collar towards the door.

    “But Dad! He’s not an it - his name is Malachi! You know that! Why are you being like this?” she asks emphatically. He’ll take three more steps before he’s screaming. I’m not too tilted; for the past year, I’ve known well that I’m referred to as a boy by Martha, an ‘it’ by her father, and a subpar artificial life form known as the ‘Voodoo’ by Martha’s mom. Call me what they want, I think I’m still me.

    And I’m still me when he slams my back against the airlock’s hatchet. There’s a bubble of a hallway connecting the outside world of deep black and breathless space and the world of the living. Her father’s hand lingers on the decompress button flashing vibrantly on the wall, a big bear paw pressed on my metaphorical spine. He’s really an animal when he gets like this. I think I need air to breath too, like everyone else, and he’s invested so much into me I don’t think he would really go back like this -

    “Listen, little shit,” he starts, lips curling back.”I bought you off the market for you to keep her company and safekeep her. Another move from you and I’ll skin you myself.” His eyes glint with revolting that would have aged his body twenty years beyond its time. It’s revolting packed into a silver bullet he’ll have me swallow. The father shoves me back further, so much so that the cold glass slaps against my exposed elbows. “Does it understand?” He never takes his hands off me.

    Three, two, one. His disgust drains into me. I’m literal shit and scum of the earth. When I answer, I’m made of a small whisper: “Yes.”

    “Go see what message the post has for me.”

    And I leave without a word to journey across the settlement.

    ///

    Our new home is comprised of a scattering of dome-shaped caves. Their great mounds rise upon this planet’s surface, coated in the same radiant red, cracked ground. Post lamps of artificial blue light hang across the top of the settlement’s horizon, illuminating us in what should be a comforting light. Yet I can’t help but feel that humanity’s still running away. Alone in these great domes, we hide, afraid to discuss the consequences or reasons of the Great Vice.

    No one will ever want to hear those words from me. Deep breaths fill my oxygen helmet with stale air, denying me an easy death. Dust whirls around the settlement, carried along by cosmic gales far too wise for all of us. Maybe it was a mistake to come all the way out here in the first place; maybe humanity should have known better than to reck yet another planet after devouring the first one so soon.

    With great difficulty, I steady my steps. My feet drag across the cracked ground, as if the space suit’s foot soles weigh two tons each. A Voodoo can only handle so much distress before it blows too. That comes as a surprise to people - but apparently we were never human. The father’s words linger in my brain, shouting, amplifying the loneliness closing in all around me.

    This planet itself is three times bigger than the last; however, the settlement’s only spread a few decent acres across. We’ll spend our days in darkness, witnessing true light only from the blessing of a falling star. I suppose that’s worth it for life: a life to be cherished with those the humans managed to save from the last planet. Outside, there’s not a sound or even the symbol of sound. But if I play Martha’s laugh over and over again in my head, I’ll have a light guiding the way forward.

    Twenty human minutes later, and I reach a dome embellished with a single street sign outside of it. The shape of a STOP sign meets green for GO; and inscribed in that shape is worn, blocky black letters. POST. Slowly, I make my way around what should be the front of the building. There are no windows anywhere, no signs of life. My knuckle encased in this puffy white suit knocks once, twice, before finally a red LED begins winking at me from the other side of the building.

    The decompression process follows: the lowering of the gate into a narrow, white space, the stripping of my space suit, each limb pulled ferociously out of parts that are too small for my frame. The hooks on the walls consume my suit, then drag it to the outer wall, examining it, purifying it of any space diseases. Humans have a heart for eradicating the most intangible of things: airborne illnesses and emotions are one in the same.

    Finally, the corridor to the actual Post opens. Inside, framed by a blazing white light, the expressions of people meet me instantly. People look away as they walk on by; people duck their faces to the other side; people wish to have nothing to do with one another. They speak in hushed whispers at a myriad of counters, passing along settlement documents and doing whatever they need to do to transition into their new homes. I’m not sure whether I’m lonelier in here or outside.

    The post itself is about three stories high, yet that’s indistinguishable once inside for how cramped the space is. I wade into a sea of bodies, careful not to touch others. I genuinely believe that some humans want their emotions: their fear, their love, their pain. Who am I to take away from them what’s rightfully theirs?

    This post windows down the three stories with stairs that have no railing. Slowly I walk, careful not to touch others, a nearly impossible task. The insignia on my forehead glows, barely obscured by my hair. It pulsates with more people around, a purple sign of ownership stamped onto me by the gods. I am a Voodoo. I am something to be revolted, feared, hated. Luckily, no one sees me.

    A sea of hushed whispers weaves in and out of the last floor of the post, belonging to people who all want to leave as quickly as they can. Ironically, humans don’t want to stay together despite surviving together. It was a sin to every need or want. Anyone else in your life. I’d do well to internalize that now that the world’s over -

    “Next,” a low voice rolls out.

    I approach the counter. The human behind a four-inch thick glass inspects me behind dark sunglasses. I see myself in the shades’ eyes, a grown human child who might be afraid.

    “Mr. Vorheise,” I mumble. The person at the counter moves paperwork around without taking their eyes off from me. I burn under the weight of it; and I’m sure the purple sign on my head is all but igniting, practically screaming what I am to the man -

    Yet nothing happens. Nimble fingers work through a pile of papers on the other side, turning everything inside out. In the span of one minute, the human post worker compiles all the papers together, then magically binds them with a machine that seems impossible to me. Martha calls it a stapler. I stand there in awe as the post man, who just shuffled all the papers like a pro card dealer, places the documents into a black bag and passes them my way.

    “Hey kid,” comes their voice again, this time spiked by some sort of emotion. When I pick up the packet, my fingers freeze. I have three seconds to turn and bolt before the human may hate me -

    “Kid?” the voice asks again, boiling my blood. I turn towards the man, my face made of wide, blown-open eyes and a frozen expression.

    The post man sits stock still. For seconds that seem to span several lifetimes, he finally lifts the shades away from his face. Vibrant green irises meet me, as well as rowdy brown hair and a crooked grin that’s all too bright for this place. His words are a register above comprehension. “Thank you.” He taps three fingers on the counter, then places his sunglasses back on. “I would have died without your kind.”

    The biggest surge of joy fills me, riding past the filth and the hatred and the pain -

    But when I turn to say something more to him, a woman recognizes the insignia on my forehead and screams.

    “Bastard child made to judge us - be gone!” Her blood curdling scream stains the space. She wants my blood. My presence, my being, my entire existence is on the line; and she makes that known as she clambers towards me, dropping everything that she waited hours to get in this office. She attracts a crowd who turns almost by design, humanity uniting against a common threat. Arms and legs slowly edge towards me, and in a few seconds they break into a full sprint with enough force to break this dome and end us all. In her, I see myself: tiny, stupid, unworthy.

    I dash down the spiral, sharp pain exploding into my ankle as I miss a step. Martha’s father’s documents stab into my chest, more worthy than my own life. One second, freedom is an arm reach away. Then a leg takes it all away. Smashing into my lungs, breaking my ribs as I fall, fall, fall -

    Colors evaporate from the world as my head bangs against the edge of the spiral’s last step. I look up to see the decompression chamber quickly flooded by humans who hate the sight of their emotional vessel. Their punches and kicks soar into me. I’m taught to not feel bad, that this pain combusting my insides and incinerating my skin is normal for someone like me. Even if I made it down the staircase, I would have never made it all the way out the decompression chamber in time. The pot’s already blown.

    I understand - I carry the crust of their being as humans. Everything they will never want on the surface. I am the living testimony to evil. My vision is drenched in the blood running down from my forehead, but at the edges I see a flash of purple and maybe fangs. The storybook from a year ago is all I have for a friend, maybe.

    Mercy finds me eventually. When they’re done dishing out the physical pain and hurt, because the emotional could never be enough, I find my space suit in patches upon the door. The button is pressed with a bleeding finger. It may not be mine.

    Ebullism can’t find me faster - and unfortunately for me I do not die

    The purple insignia sizzles away at my flesh.

    ///

    When I think of Martha, I see the world. A young woman dancing along aurora lights, stars spun into her hair, notes of her melodic voice splayed across the galaxy. Love could be that thing, ‘want’: the desire to experience and cherish something or somebody forever. Is it okay to love forever? Is that why the humans venture across the stars with the mission of continuing their lives forever? Is the termination of their emotions the sacrifice for that greater love?

    Lost in a dark space, it becomes harder to see Martha. Everywhere I turn, the lone lady who showed me generosity and kindness like I had never before seen in my life disappears. She vanishes for dashing figures on my peripheral horizon. They smell like fire and burned flesh, more monstrous than man, combusting into the starlight with haunches like machine-powered weapons. The more I strain my sight, the harder it becomes to find the hound. Who holds the gun?

    Voices and words filter slowly into my consciousness. And when I come to, the first thing I see are my hands, these human-looking hands, coated in scars.

    “Malachi?” she asks me gently. A layer of wariness falls over her tone. I don’t see capsules upon capsules of her clothes or those new objects that brought so much entertainment and joy to her. I see concrete brick walls framed by jaundice light.

    Martha, with bags below her eyes, finally latches onto me. This is the cruelest wake up: a slap of her terror straight to my bloodstream. It doesn’t end, because the father finds me next, then the mother, two ghosts of humans who funnel the rawest of resentment and uncertainty into me. My blood boils but this room, cold as death, cancels out the temperature so I again cannot die.

    While I awake, wrists and ankles strapped to a bed of sorts, they shout their fears at me. I cannot hear them above the sound of my blood whirling with everything that goes into me. Murder, they call it. Safety shelter. Contaminated planet. Even when their emotions sink into me like heavy stones that will never crumble, I do not fully comprehend what Martha says to me. I hold onto her pain too, and the sight of her refreshed face confuses me for the first time in my life. The world is raw, fire at the edges of everything I see, and I cannot say why -

    “Malachi? What do you need right now?” she asks, pushing back the curls of my hair.

    It had been the first time she ever asked me for what I needed.

    “You slept through a week straight, and your wounds never healed,” she says with her other hand clutched to her mouth.

    I can’t answer, looking down again to see patterns of fresh blood blossoming from the cuts.

    When I can, I leave. To find the fox I dreamed of.

    ///

    I wander.

    The surface of the settlement does nothing for everything pushing past my internal boundaries. The insignia seeps into me, and for a second I wish it would incinerate my forehead; that way, maybe its fire would spread into my lungs, bust my ribcage open, and free my heart of everything pressed into it. I’m harboring three hearts’ worths of emotion: and with every step I take, the more I feel a chain anchoring my chest to the ground.

    At some point, a Voodoo must release. I edge as far away from the settlement as I can, to a point where their orange bumps against the body of this planet disappear against the horizon. On this dusty, forgettable part of the planet, maybe I can disappear too: fall into the vast deserts, never be hurt or take another’s hurt again. How far can friendship and love extend to?

    In my space suit, I sink into the deep sand. A part of it reverberates through my suit. Sand, soft as skin, warm like rivulets of blood immersed into the streams. Maybe I can drift away out here, with Martha at my side, while we both question if either of us can either have the capacity for love. For all that she gives me, the more I forget what I may truly experience and what may be hers.

    I roll on my side, and the helmet reorients the world for me yet again. For infinity, beyond and around us, space spreads. Humanity’s just one tiny bump in the overarching design, but I don’t know how to describe this to Martha or her family. I’m not really supposed to speak at all.

    “Hello?” someone calls, a voice of melting magic.

    I turn my head cautiously, almost sure to see the woman from the Post. Her face hardened by hatred in sharp angles, mouth contorted into a thin line. A shadow along her jaw line.

    But there is a child in front of me. A child with brilliant red hair, dark skin, and almond eyes behind the glass of her space helmet. The little one scampers towards me, and I know I should move away. But her smile is big and bright, enough to light up two worlds for me. I fail in protecting her from myself.

    “You’re a Voodoo too, aren’t you?”

    My blood stops.

    “I’m a Voodoo… from another universe!” She twirls as she says it, touching her toes, struggling to get back up, then finally circling back towards me. From my vantage point, she’s a million feet tall, a menace of childish wonder and knowing.

    “D-don’t say that,” I start uneasily. “People of this settlement don’t like Voodoo. And that’s okay, because we’re lucky to have life in the first place, and you as a kid especially should learn to focus on higher things…” But my words feel misplaced. The blood drips in my space suit, clinging to and caking upon the fingertips.

    The child presses both hands down upon either of my shoulders. Bending forward, while I’m still on the ground, she looks right into my eyes with irises made of pure black.

    “I come from another universe,” she sings softly, “but did you know all Voodoo are the same? We were made to take the guilt away. From those who made the Great Vice happen!” The dimple on her left cheek lifts up as she smiles at me again. “No matter what time split finds us, the Great Vice is always the same. Humans hunt down the very last of their resources so they have nothing left. Pokemon have nothing left. Animals have nothing left. And finally humans concede that they must move to a new planet.”

    A whole world plays before my eyelids to the tune of her words. The rising of man, a million sunsets tainted by ceaseless killing, nights imbued with the selfish drive to sustain one’s own life above any and all else. To want and need were the greatest sins. The humans perpetuate it still. A knife drags along my innards, ripping apart everything I ever thought I knew about the world. Somehow, the little girl’s still talking.

    “Voodoo are engineered to take away their sins, and then we’re painted as the big meanies. That’s kinda messed up, huh?”

    The child stares into my eyes. Without knowing why, I begin undoing the latches on my space glove. Maybe it’s because of her smile, or because of her innocence, or because I truly want to know if she’s just like me. I’m overflowing for a Voodoo, and through touch I’ll at least know if she’s like me or if my hallucinations do me in. Regardless, she does the same. The bare skin of my palm meets the -300 degree C temperature of space, fingers shriveling up on the spot -

    But she takes my hand into her much smaller hand. Holding me close and dear, sapping all the fear and pain and anxiety straight from my veins to hers. The insignia on her forehead and my own glows as she hugs me. The process pumps light into my head, warding away everything that’s clouded my vision, helping clarify who I really am. Suddenly, space isn’t so dark and murky and dense, but is actually a cosmic battlefield where a million timelines strangle one another for dominance. I can see each one so clearly.

    “We, the Voodoo, belong to the bodies of human children who’ve been hunted too in the humans’ search for unending life.” The little girl presses her paws in my back. Monstrous crimson blades seep into the puffy space jacket, ripping through the down material to sweep across my spine. “Now, we hunt.” Her face turns to me, triangular ears pressed to the skull, tufts of blood-soaked fur sticking out in all directions. A wolf wearing a kid’s clothing.

    “Your Mr. Vorheise brought the last convey of humans here,” the beast taunts in a big breaths gnarled by darkness. Her wicked breathing fogs up the entirety of her helmet, so that only wicked teal eyes shine through the glass like the torn tips of knives. I cannot speak; the insignia on my forehead is still, quiet, for the first time in my life, soothing on my head. The world fast-forwards with me still stuck in the moment, unable to free myself. Words still find her.

    “Malachi, you are a Voodoo too. You’ve already hunted.” A glint of red captures my attention across the horizon. When I whip my head back up to look at the little girl, she is nowhere to be found. My chest rattles, every neuron in my being set afire. Unlocked.

    ///

    “Malachi, help me!”

    I killed the first one. With the Voodoo, I tore the women from the post office into three equivalent parts, strung across the lamplights outside different domes. The next killing happened the following week, then the next day, the night after, then the hour after. The Voodoo learned how to make human molds out of harvested emotions, experiencing each one so complexly and vividly that they could extract human forms from them.

    Martha hides behind the remnants of a table, one of the last human survivors. Her laughter is still there somewhere, I like to believe. Buried underneath those big lungs and that ebullient smile. Martha, nothing can get you down, in this universe or the next. Blame your father for the ideology that society inculcated into him, and that he tried to pass onto you too. Anyone could hear your heartbeat reverberate through the legs of that table. It’s okay to feel fear, but you have to know I can’t take this one away from you this time.

    The little girl in the desert became a man, then a grandmother, then a pseudo-guardian to three human children. No matter what, at the end of the day, her and the other Voodoo would slink back into the form of a three-ton fox of a beast. They sprinted up and down the sandy dunes, ripped necks from bodies, shifted into a human before a drop of blood hit the ground. Bare paws split around the metallic liquid, only to transform into human fingers and ligaments framed to look cut and threatened. I first knew that little girl as the nice man at the Post.

    It took over five hundred timelines for this one to become apparent: the timeline where the most powerless becomes stronger than a god. Something so strong as to revert its own form and dish out vengeance so strong upon the human race it could be called cruel. At the end of the day, for the Voodoo to beat humans, they had to become humans. Claws slinked back into human nails; a maw full of a thousand furious teeth rearing for the jugular became ordinary human chompers. Humans were never that strong physically. It’s what they did to each other, what they refused to acknowledge as sin, and how they continued sinning that made them fearless beyond all belief.

    Martha backs away from the table, clutching anything close to her chest: a gun held with trembling fingers and a pocket journal more lethal to me than any other weapon combined. Martha never knew what to do with it then or now. Martha is the last light of my whole universe.

    Not yet bright enough to ward off this darkness.

    The Voodoo hunted humans as harshly as humans hunted themselves out of extinction. Our world is a bifurcated orb of fur and black, black blood, darkened with lust that we’ve accumulated over a million timelines of pain. I used to think space was infinite. Now I think there’s not enough room across those wearied skies to take hold of our song, that of endless suffering and war without end.

    Martha calls me now. Her father’s skull is a series of smashed diamonds glinting across the living room floor. Martha begged for me to take almost all of it: her suffering, her anxiety, her depression, the waning of her mind in order to lighten her heart.

    She never asked me to take her love.

    When I kill Martha, I too am no longer human, no longer able to breathe
    Last edited by Smiles; 01-08-18 at 11:46 PM.

    ❤ MISTRAL IMMORTAL ❤

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    "Take Care of Yourself"



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    INTRO


    First OFF THAT OPENER. IT’S REALLY SIMPLE AND I APPRECIATE IT. IT GIVES A VERY SETTING FOR THE TONE, AND THE THEME WE WILL BE EXPLORING. AAAH.




    Her voice melts into my ear, words slipping down the canals to pool into me. “Don’t be afraid,” she says, squeezing, looking away from me to peer into velvet unknown. Outside of this spacecraft there’s an infinite blanket of stars and moons combusting unto themselves, leaving us in the shallow pools of their dead darkness. Forever sprawls from one place to the next outside of here. But for a second I can pretend it’s just me and Martha close here together. Maybe from now until the end of time.

    This was… gorgeous! I’m sold on the intro already! You used some great descriptions and visuals.


    I have no way to describe it but “To slip down the canals to pool into me.” Is a totally fine sentence, but it feels as if you could have phrased this better?


    It’s a personal preference, but I always feel as if… (stay with me, tongue twister time.) using multiple to’s, too’s and such always sound a bit weird to me personally. Are they grammatically correct? One hundred percent! So if you like it, stick with it, but now, on to how I think you could make this sound a bit better!


    I think you could literally change “to” to “and” and be fine!


    “To slip down the canals and pool into me.”


    To implies motion, but we already know there's motion due to the water pooling into the character. I guess I sort of read it as “slips down the canals to pool into me (x2)”


    This is definitely a personal thing, but it stuck out enough to me I figured it was worth noting, as it’s something worth considering as a writer; grammatically correct or what sounds better?


    -


    I also notice right off the bat in this story the glorious visuals and atmosphere of an endless galaxy, well done!


    You also do an amazing job of painting Martha!! I think she’s such a simple character, in a good way! So far, she seems to represent the human emotions of the scene while the narrator spectates this, and tries to take those feelings for themselves.


    Now the reason I bring this up is because, well, I think that executing a character with no emotions is tough. Especially with the tone set. You are trying to give us a character who only feels other people’s emotions, but also want them to be their own person! As a character with depth? Totally fine, but throwing both of these ideas at us at once is a little jarring, ESPECIALLY when the scene is focused on Martha’s emotions.


    I think honestly, a quick fix to this would be to take your time a bit more and slow down the exploration of the world. This scene is easily really good based on Martha’s emotions alone, and the descriptions of the universe make it prosper. Perhaps waiting to explore the narrator’s own feelings could wait? And maybe this could help reinforce their desire to be their own person! Make your writing focus on everything but their emotions, and have the story gradually integrate these emotions into the narrator and have their viewpoint shift as they become clouded with feelings! It’s all up to you though!


    STORY


    I’ve utterly failed. Martha senses my distress, lunging for my hand and snuggling her head into my neck. I still feel a bit cold.

    I think this was a good use of that lack of emotion. For the narrator, it was cool because he stresses his concerns with these human emotions entering them, but also the “coldness” they express is a very much real and relatable feeling that exists in this world. Someone full of love pressing against you, but all you feel is cold. A grim feeling! :(


    -


    Hey, you remember that 1981 Earth Universe 2 classic you really liked? The Fox and the Hound?”

    Good job of showing, and not telling the setting of this story! You casually threw in mentions of a distant place, OUR world, and made it pretty seamless. It stretches the fourth wall in a great way and perhaps adds more questions (good ones!), just where is this story in the universe?


    -


    Voodoo were created to cradle the sins of fragile souls. We ingest animosity like a golden apple; fear, revulsion, and pain are known better to us than our own emotions. I am not human, not animal. I am nothing.


    I neither want nor need

    Cool descriptions of voodoos! I love, as I've stated, the exploration of someone lacking emotion. This scenario leaves me to wonder. So far in the story, we know there is love, but if they feel so little, is it a healthy love or one of dependency?


    You’ve given us a simple concept and made it quote thought provoking!


    -


    Not to detract from that quote, but “to cradle the sins of fragile souls” sounds needlessly like an edgy line. You should see me in conversations with my friends, I say melodramatic stuff for the heck of it. (Stuff like this.) and I am ALL FOR THIS KIND OF WRITING!!!! BUT I want to know what it means, because writing like this is very strong and stands out, and there are many times where it means everything to the writer but in the scope of the story means nothing. I think what makes me question it more so, is that Martha seems innocent enough.


    I can see her being a fragile soul, but what is technically the sin here? The narrator states that they absorb her bad emotions, but are bad emotions the sin of this world?


    -


    Another cool theme explored!


    And I’m still me when he slams my back against the airlock’s hatchet.

    This story reminds me why I love Zorua. One of my all time favorite concepts in story is the exploration of identity; what it means to us, and who defines it. This line was very fascinating to me because despite everything wrong, there was a comforting part of him that reminded him of who he was.


    -


    So I loved the build up for the finale!!!! The scene in the post really gave me as the reader a better perspective on “sin” but it’s still a bit vague. Even better though, is that I got to see a glimpse of what a vood was seen to society! I found it a good comparison to someone who is an outcast in general to society, really interesting! I thought it was cool because again, you do a good job of making something relatable. We see the entire world of the narrator before we see the tragedy of his world, and this is important. We see the outer world as ignorant to this character’s struggles. We know them, we see the feelings he lacks and yearns for.


    This builds into something very important: being ignored by society and bursting because of it. It’s something we see time and time again! What made it even more fascinating was that you show this through the concept of different timelines.


    -


    I like that you connect these dark feelings to a feral creature that lives inside of the Voodoo!! Super cool and nice, it felt like raw, real emotion!


    -


    The finale. Hoo boy. The finale left me speechless. The idea that humanity caused their own downfall is not a new concept, but a welcome one when done right, and through the story of Martha, we see a glimpse of this.


    What really made it interesting to me was a question that popped into my mind, whether you planned for the reader to think of it, I do not know… but the question is:


    Who are really the disconnected ones:


    The emotionless, who yearn to help others, or the ones who feel everything and save themselves?


    It’s a great struggle, and makes you question emotions and the power they hold over us.


    A very good ending, well done.


    -


    I always do this and I'm sorry, but something did come up that was a little odd!


    She never asked me to take her love.
    Is the one line I struggle to relate to or agree with. It makes me wonder… do we let the narrator swallow up every emotion? But on the other hand, I got the impression that Martha loved him, at least platonically. I get that you tried to show she used him as a tool, but there were many scenes with her giggling and eyes fill with delight for me to not think she liked him. It was rather odd.


    I think in the future for stories, try and work on how the characters blend into the ideals. Because to me, We only see the narrator’s inner thoughts and how he sees Martha as the universe and light. We don’t see if Martha feels the same way. But maybe that’s your point, he never knew if she did feel the same. I think this exploration of relationships is incredibly fascinating! I can’t really give sound advice because it’s up to interpretation in my opinion, but I can easily say that you should keep on exploring these concepts of relationships!!!


    GRAMMAR


    Looked good to me!


    LENGTH
    ACR: 33,401
    MCR: 30k


    You did it!!!


    THE VERDICT


    So, I didn’t discuss it much during the story because it felt out of place to mention it more than once, but how you used Zorua was very sneaky and cool! It was the embodiment of the emotions that the narrator had consumed, and I found it a very interesting subversion of Zorua as a whole! Rather than the character escaping from their identity, they are lost and searching. The end result isn’t some illusion of a person, but the Zorua itself. I found it really cool that Zorua was an answer to a story, rather than a question! Well done.


    I loved the visuals of space and themes of Martha! Overall, well done! ZORUA CAPTURED.
    "Take Care of Yourself"



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