Saturday, August 17, 2019

Drabble No 6: Where We Were Pt 6


Where We Were Pt 6



The Jengu had passed out a few minutes before the island was in sight. He was dead weight in the water between Miranda and Jerome, and without his powerful push the going was much slower. Eventually, as the sun was setting, they dragged him to shore and lay down on the sand, breathing hard. 

"He wasn't kidding when he said it was just a rock in the water," Jerome said after catching his breath. "There are two palm trees, a few inches of sand, and nothing else."

Miranda had to agree. The 'island' was less than five hundred yards across at best, and it was some kind of hard, lumpy rock under the meager sand they lay on. 

"What about him?" Jerome asked, poking the Jengu. "Is he alive?"

Miranda studied the man. "He's breathing."

"That arm is out of its socket," Jerome told her. "And something shredded his leg."

"He's lost a lot of blood." He looked pale lying on the sand; the only thing to tell her he wasn't human was the crease of the gills on his neck. 

"Not much we can do here." Jerome grabbed hold of his tattered shirt and ribbed the hem off. "Let's bandage up the leg at least."

Miranda pushed back the Jengu's pant leg to reveal the shredded skin of his calf. It was covered in a thick black slime.

"Ink," Jerome told her. He scooped some of the sea water into his hands and doused the wound, washing away the slime. "Some kind of octopus or squid got him."

"Big one," she murmured, staring at the imprint of hand-sized suckers on his skin.

They wrapped the wound, still oozing blood, and tied it tight.

"That's all we can do," Jerome told her as he lay back again. His own body must be screaming with exhaustion. His mangled left arm and leg were mostly useless, meaning his right half pulled most of the weight of his movements. "I need to rest."

"You rest," Miranda told him. "I'll look around and see if I can find anything to build a fire. Two stones to strike a flint, maybe."

He nodded, eyes closed. "Be careful."

She left the two men lying on the beach and made her way over to the palm trees. She gathered a few stray fronds, dried out from lying on the ground for a while. When she had a goodly stack, she dropped them near Jerome and the Jengu man and went back to look for something to strike the light. She found two stones, but she had no idea if they'd work or not. As the sun began to fully set, she decided there was no harm in trying. 

It took several minutes and a few curses before the strike of the stones produced a spark that caught the fronds. The fire was burning heartily when the Jengu man groaned and opened his eyes. 

"Be careful," she whispered, so as not to wake Jerome. "You're hurt."

"The two of you dragged me here?"

She nodded.

His eyes drifted to the fire. "You built the fire?"

"I did."

He struggled to sit up, and she leaned toward him, pushing him up without touching his injured shoulder. 

"We're going to have to do something about that shoulder," she told him. 

"I'll take care of it." He glanced at Jerome. "Is he alive?"

"He needs to rest. He tires more easily than most."

"So you dragged us both here."

She didn't answer. She and Jerome had been friends since childhood, so she didn't think of him like that at all. He wasn't a burden; he was her friend.

"Help me stand." 

She helped him up and he pointed to the palm. When they were close, he waved her away. Before she could gasp, he turned and rammed his shoulder into the tree, an audible pop echoing in the quiet. He sighed, his face pale. "That's better."

She pushed herself under his good arm and led him back to the fire. Once he was settled, she sat across from him. "Are you all right?"

"I will heal." He glanced at the makeshift bandage. "Thanks."

"We'll need food and water," she said to him. 

"Tomorrow I'll catch some fish to cook over the fire."

"What about water?"

"I can show you how to extract the salt from the seawater, to make it drinkable."

"Oh." 

They were silent for awhile, only Jerome's occasional snore breaking through the quiet. 

"My men will come looking for me when they don't find my body near the wreckage. We won't be here long."

Miranda stared out at the moon as it rose over the water. It was beautiful here, all alone in the middle of the ocean. 

"Are you afraid of what will happen to you in the King's Palace?" he asked.

She shrugged. "No more afraid of what might happen when I got to the new world. Anything is better than where we were."

"Was it London?"

"Yes." She didn't ask how he knew about London. She figured the Jengu came on land from time to time. 

"Why did you save me?" 

"I told you, better the devil you know than the one you don't. You've been decent to us. Most would decide that Jerome isn't worth saving, and I'm nothing special myself. If we're to have a master, better to be in his good graces than on his bad side."

The Jengu man laughed. "I can see your point." He looked at Jerome. "What happened to him?"

"His father was a blacksmith. At age four Jerome stumbled into the fires of the forge, and his entire left side was burned. It was a miracle he survived at all."

"He gets around well for a man of his disability."

"He has to. It's get around, or die."

"My King is a good man, Miranda. He treats his subjects well and he is fair. The Jengu take slaves, a practice many don't agree with, but without them the palace would fall to ruin. There are no Jengu females, and so the species is dwindling even now."

"No females?"

"None that are natural born. Some are turned, like I was."

"You were human?"

He looked at her, his face stark and still pale in the light of the fire. "I was. The trials are arduous and not many survive."

"So, you were a slave, too?"

" I was. We all were. We proved our loyalty and our worth, and the opportunity to face the trials was given to us by the King."

Miranda knew that the world ran on one being's ability to use others. Servants, slaves, it was all the same. Why would the Jengu world be any different? 

"I don't agree with the practice of taking slaves," he told her, surprising her. "But it's the way of the Jengu and the King is adamant that it be done."

"I think you'll be a fair master, at least."

He chuckled. "I hope so. If you do your job you'll be well fed and housed and you'll not want for anything. We don't punish our slaves and there is no violence allowed."

It sounded like heaven to Miranda after some of the other places she'd been. "I have no family, save Jerome, and no reason to stay here. I'll do my duty, and do it well. Maybe someday I'll be chosen for the trials."

"Maybe." He looked at the sky. "Only a few hours until sunrise. Rest now, and I'll keep watch until Jerome awakes."

"But you're injured. You should rest and let me keep watch."

"Go to sleep, Miranda."

She lay down next to Jerome, and she fell asleep to dreams of underwater palaces and places where violence wasn't allowed.



Thursday, August 15, 2019

Drabble No 5: Where We Were Pt 5


**Check the blog for parts 1-4**


Where We Were Pt 5


Levine held on to the woman and the disabled man as best he could as the ship rolled and flipped. Water churned around them, and he knew the humans had little time before they drowned. His men had gathered the others, saving as many as they could. He saw Bernhardt take hold of his other slave and her offspring and swim away in the murky depths. 

When he got his hands on the bastard who'd attacked his ship he was going to make them pay, but for now he had to focus on keeping his captives alive. What good were servants if they died before they could work? 

A few kicks of his legs pushed them away from the ship as it fell apart around them. He swam into the open ocean, away from the wreckage of the ship as it sank below them. He pushed hard toward the surface, their weight dragging him down and making the effort much harder than usual. He felt them struggling against him, the fear of running out of air making them fight for life. Good, he needed them strong. 

The light was closer, signaling the surface as he swam as fast as he could. He let them go, pushing them into the air and breaking the surface as something grabbed hold of his leg and yanked him back down. 

He rolled, staring into the eyes of the giant cephalopod that held him.

"Leave me be, Coriolis!" he said in the language of the sea. He knew the creature understood. "I have no quarrel with you or yours!"

The tentacle pulled him deeper, and he felt the bite of the grip on his leg, slicing through flesh to the bone. Coriolis was warring with his king, and saw him as a substitute for punishment. He pulled his bone knife from it's scabbard at his waist and hacked at the tentacle. Ink bubbles rose around him as Coriolis reacted to the wound. 

Other tentacles slapped at Levine, as his own blood, the blue green phosphorescent of the Jengu, stained the water and mixed with the ink. He stayed conscious through sheer will as the tentacles battered him, cracking ribs and dislocating his shoulder. He swiped at the cephalopod and finally the damned thing let him go. His knife still tight in his hand, Levine swam for the surface. 

He gulped in air he didnt really need as he hit the top of the water, his injuries throbbing in time to his heart beat. He saw the woman and the disabled man treading water nearby, and he was glad they could swim. 

"What happened?" the woman demanded as she swam closer. "What happened to the ship?"

"Attacked," he managed. "Destroyed."

"You're hurt!" She eyed the glaze of his blood that coated the surface of the water around them.

"Won't be conscious much longer," he told her. "If I go down, just let me sink."

"What?" She blinked in surprise. "Won't you die?"

"Possibly."

"Here!" The disabled man kicked his good leg and pushed closer, holding on to some debris. "Parts of our ship you destroyed, I think." 

She translated.

Damn. He hadn't wanted them to know they'd decided to sink their ship, but there was no denying it now. He threw his good arm over the chunk of wood, thankful he could float without expending any more energy. They floated next to him. 

"My men will come for us," he told her. "But it will be a day or more before they can return with a new ship."

"What do we do?" she asked after explaining to the other man. 

"There is a rocky island not far, but I won't make it. Swim that way and you'll find it." He waved in the direction of the only 'land' for miles. 

She conferred with the man, and then shook her head. "We won't leave you behind."

"Why?" He was surprised. Why would they want to help him when they could be free?

"Who knows who our master will be if you're gone when the others come?" She grabbed hold of the chunk of wood and hauled him closer. "You saved us."

He was losing energy fast, his leg wound still bleeding. No time to argue it now, no matter how confounding he found their choice. "I can manage with one leg. Can you swim beside me and keep me heading in the right direction?"

"Jerome only has one good leg, too. The two of you together might make a useful man." She waved the man, Jerome, to his other side. Together, the three of them could kick and propel themselves forward. It would be slow going, but they could make progress. 

"Your name?" Levine asked the woman. A woman who had decided he was a better master than the others without knowing him at all. A perplexing woman. 

"Miranda."

They didn't speak again, saving what energy they had for some hope of making it to land before the sharks got a taste of his blood in the water. 


***If you liked this section, leave me a comment!***

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Darbble No. 4: Where We Were Pt4

Where We Were Pt 4


Start with Pt 1 here

***

The inside of the ship was unlike any sailing vessel Miranda had ever seen. Empty, the interior was a vast open space without bench or mooring to hold on to. 

The captives were lined up along the walls, their backs pressed against the tiny divots in the shiny silver metal. The Jengu occupied the center of the space, standing back to back in a circle.

"How do you think this thing sails?" Jerome asked, his shoulder pressed against hers. The captives were quiet, subdued, taking in the new wonders with wide eyes. The children clung to their mothers' skirts, peering out curiously. No one spoke and Miranda barely dared to breathe.

The ship began to move, and Miranda's breath caught in her throat as it began to fall from beneath them. The Jengu were steady on their feet, but Miranda could feel her heart beating fast and hard. 

"Tell them not to hold their breath," the big man instructed her in French. "They'll get sick if they do."

She relayed his message to the captives, and everyone nodded that they understood. Miranda felt the pressure building behind her eyes, and a strange buzzing sensation started in her toes and worked its way up her body. 

"We're diving," Jerome whispered. "We'll feel the effects of the pressure changes as we go deeper into the water."

Miranda noted that none of the Jengu seemed to feel the effects like they did. 

Suddenly the ship rocked hard to one side, throwing most of the captives to the ground. The mothers pulled their children close, and stayed down, as others scrambled to get back to their feet. Even a few of the Jengu stumbled with the impact. 

Though she couldn't understand the language, the big man was barking orders to the others. The ship lurched again, and a massive bang echoed throughout the interior of the ship. Something large had struck the outside of the silver ball. 

Miranda fell, pulling Jerome down with her as the ship seemed to turn end over end. People screamed as they were bashed against the sides of the ship. 

The big man rolled toward them, and he gathered Miranda and Jerome into his arms, holding them against his chest as they continued to bounce around the interior of the ship. 

"Hold tight!" he grunted into her ear as the force of the impact against the side of the ship shook them all. Water began to rush into the ship, and more captives screamed as they realized they were about to drown. 

The big man barked more orders, and the Jengu gathered as many captives as they could, holding them as he held Miranda and Jerome. The ship began to break apart violently, and Miranda cried out as several women were swept away by the sudden rush of seawater.

"Hold your breath!" her captor demanded as water began to rush over them. "I won't let you die, I promise!"

"As if we can believe you!" she shouted, out of patience and certainly about to die. "You're a brute, you Jengu monster! A brute and a killer!"

"Save your breath," he ordered as the water covered their heads. Miranda closed her eyes, waiting for the horrible death that was drowning. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Drabble No 3: Where We Were Pt3


Where We Were Pt 3

The Jengu were an interesting lot, less terrifying up close. The best way to describe them was odd. The lot of them were male, that much was obvious. Miranda tried not to stare at the one with pale blue skin and lidless reptilian eyes. He made prickles of fear flutter over her skin, though he made no attempt to harm anyone. She noticed his hands were like her own, but webbed between the fingers. The better to swim with, she assumed.

Everyone snapped to attention when a tall man entered. He was a man, more than some of the others. He was as wide as the door with shoulders so broad she wondered where he found clothes to fit. She watched him, because he was the leader and whatever he said would determine the fate of all the people left alive on the ship. 

She didn't understand the language, but it was harmonic and lilting. Whatever he said, it galvanized the others as they began to round up the women and children and lead them up to the deck. The big man pointed at her, Jerome, and a woman named Dolly sitting near them with her young son. She caught the Jengu's eye, too stubborn to let fear cow her. It was her downfall, as her old Ma had said a thousand times. Too stubborn for her own good. 

The man with the webbed hands waved for them to stand, and they did, following the others toward the deck. She made sure to pause in front of the big Jengu. When she spoke she used French, her mother's language, and the one most like the Jengu language that she knew. He might not understand her, but she'd make her meaning clear. 

He answered her, his French better than her own, and then waved her away. His dismissal was a blessing, because there was no air with the man so close. He seemed to take it all, leaving her breathless when she finally caught up to Jerome.

"Did you see his neck?" Jerome whispered.

"Neck?" She'd been too angry, too intent on questioning him, to notice his neck.

"He had gills!"

It made sense, she supposed. They were sea dwelling creatures after all. 

"What kind of ship is that?" Jerome said, his eye wide. 

Miranda couldn't answer. The thing he called a ship was no more than a bubble of shiny silver, rounded and bobbing gently on the water. 

A door opened on the surface of the thing that was not a ship, and the people cried out in awe. Another thing that made sense to Miranda; the Jengu could not travel by ordinary means.

"You're not surprised."

She looked up to see the big man looming over her, casting her into shadow. Not a small woman, it felt strange to feel small next to him. "It makes sense that traveling below the sea means sailing strange ships."

"You're courageous."

"I'm not stupid. We saw what you did to the men of the ship. Fighting would be useless. We only want to stay alive."

"A smart female." He looked at Jerome and Dolly. "You three, and the child, belong to me. You will obey me, and everything will be all right."

Miranda translated the French to the others, then turned to the big man. "As your slaves, you mean."

"You work for me. I feed, house, and protect you."

"Leave it be, Miranda," Dolly said. "It's no different than we'd have in the new world. Indentured is the same, no matter the master."

She was right. They were to be slaves no matter the location. She'd already sold her freedom for a chance to escape London. 

They fell in line to board the Jengu's strange vessel, and the big man was behind them. Miranda took a risk, and asked, "Will we ever see the sun again?"

He looked up at the sun, and shrugged. "Perhaps. But the palace of the Jengu holds many wonders. Maybe you won't miss it."

Miranda climbed into the shiny silver bubble, surprised to find it larger than she'd imagined. They lined up along the walls as instructed, and again the big man was next to her.

"Do not hold your breath," he told them as the bubble began to rock. "The feeling will overwhelm you, but try not to vomit."

Miranda held Jerome's good hand as the door slid shut and the strange vessel began to descend into the deep of the ocean. 


**If you like this flash fic, or have any comments, please feel free to tell me all about it!! Folks who want longer pieces can find them weekly, for free, in The Fabulous FanPage for AR DeClerck ***


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Drabble No. 1: Where We Were


Drabble No. 1: Where We Were


An aside: I love writing for readers. It's the number one reason I write stories in the first place. There's nothing better than creating emotion in a reader with my words. Please enjoy these 100 (ish) word pieces of flash fiction with my compliments. If you're interested in reading longer free pieces, please join my Facebook Group where members receive free weekly short stories in exchange for sharing the word about AR DeClerck with their friends and on social media. I hope you like what you're about to read, please let me know what you think, I love hearing from readers. 



They did not know where they were. They did not know how they'd come to be there, or even what day it was. Was it even day? Perhaps night had come and gone and they'd missed that, too. 

The people in the cargo hold were scared, and Miranda didn't blame them. She was scared, too. Children held on to their mothers tightly, crying against their breasts or staring with wide, glassy eyes at the remains of the crew in the corner. Nothing left but blood and bone, by Miranda's estimation. The enemy had come silently aboard, cutting throats and decimating bodies with quiet efficiency. No one in the hold had seen any of them. Except Miranda. She didn't say what she'd seen; they couldn't afford the panic. Nobody in this hold was going home alive, that much she knew for certain.

"I thought they said this route was free from pirates," Jerome whispered to her. They sat shoulder to shoulder, away from the families and the unmarried women. Jerome was the only man over the age of ten years left alive, and he'd certainly been spared because of his hunched back and terribly scarred face. He didn't appear to be a threat to anyone. 

"They're not pirates." Miranda could tell Jerome what she saw, because he would believe her. He would understand why she had no hopes for any of them. She met his good eye, staring at him without blinking. So he'd know she wasn't joking. "I saw Jengu."

He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing fitfully. 

"Don't tell me I'm crazy, Jerome. I know what I saw," she hissed.

"What do we do?"

She looked at the huddled people, all of them looking for a better life in a new land, just like her. None of them deserved what fate lay in store for them. "We can't do anything. If they'd wanted us dead we'd already be dead." She jerked her chin at the pile of bodies in the corner. "Like them."

"What then?"

She knew the stories of the Jengu, all who traveled by water did. They lived below the sea, in cities built of bone, and they captured travelers, dragging them down to become their servants until they died of old age or mistreatment and it was time to hunt for more. 

"Should we pray?" Jerome wasn't a religious man, and she rolled her eyes at him. 

"All we can do is try to survive for as long as we can."

"Is that better than dying quickly?"

It was a good question, one she didn't have the answer for. "That's up to you," she told him. "I only know that none of us are going to make it to the new world."

"We should have stayed where we were." 

She closed her eyes, imagining the place she'd left behind. Even now, in these uncertain times, she wasn't sure. "Where we were is just a memory now," she said as the door swung open and wails went up from the women and screams from the children when their captors were finally revealed. She held Jerome's hand and squeezed hard. Whatever happened next, she was glad she'd never be going back to where they were before. 




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Monday, March 4, 2019

Coffee with a Writer: We Are Made of Stars

Coffee with a Writer: We Are Made of Stars




Once upon a time there was nothing. No light. No sound. No warmth. Only the thick black void of pre-existence. There was something to be said for whatever could exist in all of that nothingness, but it was not, and never would be, alive. In one moment there was simply nothing and in the next there was light. Warmth. Spreading, expanding, mixing and churning until there were stars, and suns and moons within the blanket of all that nothingness. And from the dust of all those cosmic interactions we came. 

I'm not a religious person, I'd call myself spiritual at best. But I do believe that what we are, what we have been, and what we will be is not coincidence. Nor is it fate or destiny, mind you, but a precise movement of a massive symphony that simply is. There's something about the idea of the cosmos that exists beyond the limits of our small blue planet that has always intrigued me. And terrified me, to be honest. It's so vast. So largely empty. So... different. Out there in space there is nothing the same as what we know here on our little blue rock. This deep, esoteric, primitive fear of what lies beyond the light is what keeps me with my feet firmly planted on the ground. Were we offered a ship's ride off the planet I would have to think twice before I stepped on board. Instead, I choose to write about what's out there; dream, imagine, and hope.

Science fiction romance is the perfect vehicle to explore the ideas of a cosmos that both terrifies and fascinates me. What better way to delve into all those infinite possibilities than to write about falling in love? It is, if one is to be honest, the one thing that will bind life forms across the endless blanket of the cosmos. Love. There are no species that wouldn't know it, no matter the word or sound or thought they use to describe it. Perhaps they hate it. Perhaps they would fear it. But all would know it. I adore the idea of humanity expanding beyond our limits, going farther, changing and growing and becoming. What would we find? How would that change us? 

One of my favorite projects so far has been writing about the Takamo Universe and the people who inhabit it. The Universe began as an email game, and has grown now into a MMORPG to be released soon. We write stories of the people who inhabit the game in order to give the player a more immersive gaming experience. My personal goal is to tell the stories of love, survival and family that bind the people of the universe together through the darkest times they will ever face. In Aphelion, a Takamo SF anthology duet, I introduce Kellen and Rayelle, two children stolen from their homes and experimented on by a shadowy organization called The Authority. The Authority is attempting to create the perfect soldier, but Kellen and Rayelle will never submit to their will. In the following story, Dead Man's Drift, we meet Kellen again, now the guardian of Rayelle's two grown daughters. Together, they travel the galaxy doing what Klevessans do best-- lying, cheating and stealing. But when they discover a plot to kill a high-ranking government official they know they have no choice but to do what's right no matter the consequences. 

There's something so special about these stories, because even though they take place far into our future, thousands of light years away, these characters are relatable. They're struggling with their pasts, the inevitability of their futures, and the weight of responsibility that might mean their deaths. They band together, testing the bonds of family and friendship, in the name of doing what's right. They're not perfect, or even necessarily good, but they have a duty to the one thing that holds them all together-- their humanity. ((In this context humanity does not necessarily connotate the human species, but more the idea of what it means to be a sentient, loving creature.))

In the end, Kellen and the others realize that no matter their species, their backgrounds or their beliefs, we all came from the same place, to that place we will return someday. We are all made of stars.



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