Fiction

do you remember? // short story

The past couple days and rest of this week have been and are continuing to be pretty busy, which has been an additional struggle on top of the creative one for this 14 day writing challenge I've been putting myself through, trying to write something or publish something every day. I purposefully timed out this writing challenge to end just about the same time as I'm leaving for a trip, since I'm not sure if I'll have the time to continue publishing work while I'm gone, but hopefully this writing challenge will give me the creative boost I need to at least be storyboarding and brainstorming while I'm gone.  

In order to keep myself in the fiction mindset, I've been outlining and storyboarding a bunch related to an older ongoing project that I'm still hoping to finish at some point in time, but I've also been going back to older pieces that I've written a while ago when fiction came a little easier to me, looking at the style, voice, and some of the themes I was working with to see what I can continue to channel into my current work and what I've grown out of.

 

The piece below is one I recently went back to as I've been trying to rediscover and tap into my fiction energy. Originally published in my university's literary magazine three years ago, this piece deals with several darker themes, something that I've oddly always been drawn to in fiction, which is perhaps why I love dystopian and noir works so much. On top of that, it's still one of the better pieces I think I've written, perhaps because it's partially inspired by real life, though I do see myself having grown out of some of the more dramatic elements as I skim through it a few years later. If you were wondering what kind of fiction I skewed towards writing three or four years ago, this piece would be a prime example, haha.

 

--

do you remember?

“Yeah, honey. I’m just leaving now.”

 

Levi Anderson held his phone between his shoulder and his cheek as he navigated down the front steps of Hill Crest Church, the Minneapolis sunset in the background. He lugged a rolling crate overflowing with music books in his right hand, carried a guitar case on his back, and clutched a travel mug of lukewarm coffee in his left as he spoke in puffs of white mist.

 

“What about the kids? Oh, sure. I’ll check. Okay. I love you, Clarissa. See you at home.”

 

He paused near the bottom of the stairs to shove his phone into his coat pocket and then made his way toward the parking lot. Near the front, he approached a green Volkswagen Golf, already surrounded by a myriad of instrument cases and other boxes. With a sigh, he popped the trunk and began loading his car, starting with the things he had just brought out.

 

The cold fall air whistled around him as he packed up all of his things. Reaching up to shut the trunk, he heard the soft crunch of footsteps. Had he forgotten something inside? Before he could turn or say anything, he felt something cold and metallic pressed against the back of his head and drew a surprised gasp.

 

“Don’t turn around.” The higher-pitched, but masculine voice had a forced sternness. “Get in. Drive.”

 

With a racing heart, Levi obeyed, inching toward the driver’s side door. He cracked open the door with a shaking hand and slid in. He heard the door behind him open and shut, the assailant also slipping in, as he started the engine. Was this actually happening?

 

“So where am I going?” Levi glanced in the rearview mirror as he backed out of his space and pulled out of the parking lot. His teeth clattered as he let out focused breaths of mist.

 

“You were about to head home weren’t you?”

 

Levi inhaled deeply, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles as he turned onto the main road running alongside the church.

 

“About thirty minutes or so, if I recall?” the assailant asked in a suddenly conversational tone. “Strange that I still remember, eh, Levi?”

 

Levi no longer felt the muzzle of the gun against his head, but he still resisted the urge to snap around. “Who are you?” he strained himself to maintain a calm tone.

 

“You don’t remember me?” the voice whined. “Oh, Levi, I was sure you would remember me. It’s only been, what, fifteen years now? What a shame. You were so important to me, though.”

 

Levi’s mind started spinning as he made his way down the city streets toward the interstate. “Why don’t I remember you?” his voice was ripe with confusion.

 

The voice gave a bemused chuckle. “People did always mean so much more to me than I ever did to them. It reminds me of you and your siblings, actually. How are Caleb and Rebekah?”

 

“Just fine,” he replied tersely, making an effort not to react physically, but he was wracking his brain for any possible connection.

 

The voice laughed. “Do you still not remember me, Levi?” Then it became stern again, but this time it wasn’t forced. “Well, I better help you remember.”

 

He half expected to have the gun jammed against his temple again, but instead he felt the figure lean forward, his breath on his shoulder as he merged onto the interstate. In the rearview mirror, a sliver of his face was now visible, but all he could see was a single brown eye and dark hair. Still nothing.

 

“I was never cool enough for you to like me in school,” he began, his face to the ground. “I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t like Call of Duty. I was too weird for you.”

 

Levi was speechless.

 

“Remember that basketball tournament your sophomore year? You and all the other guys threw me in the pool in all my clothes and I had to walk all the way back up to my room soaking wet.” He took a deep breath. His voice was pained. “And then your junior year, I was in your room and you told all the guys I was gay because I didn’t want to sleep on the floor.” There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “Remember now?”

 

Levi swallowed. Bits and pieces had risen to the surface. He did remember, but he couldn’t put a name or a face to any of the incidents.

 

“The same year, you convinced one of my best friends that I was in love with her. She stopped talking to me. The next week she started dating you.” The voice gave what sounded like a stifled sob. “Then at prom, you and the other guys got wasted and hid the bottles in my locker. Remember now?”

 

“I—”

 

“Do you remember?” the figure lurched forward, his voice cracking halfway between a shout and a sob. Levi flinched, his breathing heavy. “Do you remember me?”

 

In his current position, Levi could see most of the figure’s face in the street lights. He barely looked different at all. Same eyes. Same hair. Same everything. His emotion-painted face was just how it had looked fifteen years ago. “Isaac…”

 

“You haven’t completely forgotten me, I suppose,” he whispered, leaning back. As Levi wove onto an exit ramp, Isaac began rhythmically tapping his gun on his knee, the sound of each tap lingering in his ears.

 

“Isaac, I’m so sorry. It was high school and if I had—

 

“Your apology is a little late,” he interjected, suddenly composed again. “Not that it changes anything. You can’t take any of it back.”

 

“Isaac, you don’t have to do this.”

 

“I know,” he answered as Levi pulled up to a red light. He raised his weapon and Levi braced himself, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his clenched teeth. He heard the gun click empty and then silence before Isaac spoke again. “But I would never stoop that low.”

 

Levi raised his hand to his chest. His heart shook his entire body as he exhaled. “Isaac.”

 

“I just wanted to talk.” His breaths were weak and labored. “I just wanted you to understand.”

 

Levi heard the back door open and snapped around. Isaac stepped out of the car without looking back at him. “Isaac!”

 

Just then, the car behind honked loudly at him. Glancing forward, he saw the light had turned green. Turning around, another car blared its horn as the first sped past him in the next lane, then another and another.

 

“Better get going,” Isaac murmured as he kicked the door shut, meandering toward the oncoming traffic.

 

“Isaac!” Levi voice cracked, but another car led a blurred curtain of vehicles that blocked off his view. “Goodness,” he muttered as he stepped on the gas. Looking back, Isaac was gone, lost in a sea of headlights and metallic sheen.

 

As the street lights passed overhead, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. The gun could’ve been loaded. He could’ve done it, but he hadn’t, even after everything. Yes, he had abducted him at gunpoint, but Isaac had shown more character than he ever had.

 

Levi sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he braked and turned onto his street. Pulling into his driveway, he sat there in silence, staring at the clock on the console. He had been right. Thirty-one minutes.

 

Sobered, Levi shut off the engine and dragged himself inside, leaving everything in his car. He flipped on the kitchen light and tossed his keys on the table, leaning back on a chair.

 

“Levi! Oh my goodness!” Clarissa’s voice called as footsteps clomped down the hall.

 

“Hi, honey.” He couldn’t even force a smile. He felt so hollow. “What is it?”

 

“Look what Kira mailed!” she exclaimed, handing him a thin shred of yellowed newspaper. “It’s nearly ten years old so I almost didn’t recognize him, but I could hardly believe it when I did. How did we not hear about this sooner? You do remember, don’t you?”

 

Levi could hardly speak as his eyes glazed over the words. He covered his mouth with his hand and tears spilled from his eyes as he could only nod his head and clench the clipping.

 

Bright college honor student, Isaac Stone commits suicide. October 22, 2003.

breathing bones // return to fiction

Wow, writing this piece was definitely more of a struggle than any of the others I've written recently, but it does mark my return to fiction writing or fiction style writing for the first time in a while. Figuring out transitions and how this piece was going to flow from beginning to end were probably two of the hardest things I had to overcome while writing this one, which sort of threw me for a loop.  

At any rate, this piece is based off a passage from Ezekiel 37, and I thought that adapting and reimagining something already in existence would be a good exercise to stretch out my stiff fiction writing muscles. Hopefully this will spur on some more fiction writing and energy in the next few days, but for the moment, I'm just glad I was able to get through this piece.

 

--

breathing bones

Warm streams of wind spiraled around me as the mist cleared from my eyes. The churning air beneath my feet ceased its whistle and began to settle as the familiar edges of gravel and stone greeted me underfoot. Safely on the ground again, I turned and surveyed the land from where I stood at the southern mouth of a brown, deadened and dry vale, craggy walls jutting upward at steep angles on either side. All along its entire length dirt-stained boulders and rocks were strewn, of many strange shapes and sizes, some elongated, some round and smooth. Only when I started into the gradually widening corridor formed by the stone walls to my right and to my left did I realize they were not stones at all. I raised a hand to my mouth in shock as my eyes widened. Littered throughout the valley bed was an endless pit of bones reaching as far as I could see, a mass grave completely dehydrated from a years’ long bath in the sun’s rays. Skulls lay with their faces turned toward the heavens, and a thousand hands poked through the skeletal debris, futilely grasping for the sky.

 

As I traversed the desert basin where a river surely must have once flowed, brittle calcium fragments cracking and snapping below my feet, a golden light shone down from the cloudless expanse above, taking the form of a ball of light flanked by soft, hazy halos of the same color. Startled, I recoiled from the light, but a warm voice emanated from within its brilliance.

 

“Child of this earth, tell me, can these bones once more return to life and breathe in the air I’ve created to fill their empty lungs?”

 

“Father of Lights,” my voice began, shaking but gaining stability, “you alone know the answer to this question you pose.”

 

“You have spoken wisely, my son,” the voice replied. “Now, lift your arms to me and turn your face heavenward as these souls have done. Prophesy to these people of dust with the words I shall give you, and you shall see for yourself the answer.”

 

Turning from the light to face the valley of withered bones, I lifted my arms to the sun above and began to speak. At the same time, the earth below trembled and a slab of rock heaved itself away from the surrounding dirt, forming a platform for myself and the ball of light above the rest of the ravine so that I could see all of the lifeless bodies I addressed.

 

“Dry bones and thirsty souls, hear the words of the Father! Look now, for he will restore the breath to your lungs and cause you to live once again. He will rebuild your bodies with flesh and muscle and wrap your sinewy frames in skin, and then he shall breathe his breath into your sleeping souls again to call you back to life. By this resurrection, you will know who he is.”

 

Once the words had left my lips, the entire valley began to rattle and shake, all the bones knocking against each other, moved by a force I had never before seen. All at once, the bones were drawn to each other like magnetism and began to assemble themselves into complete bodies, erecting a ghastly skeletal legion before my eyes. Stepping back in awe, I watched as ribbons of red and yellow light then whirled around these incomplete frames, drawing tendons and muscles onto the bone as they glided between the ranks, and when they were finished, they flew over in a second pass, dressing their humanoid features with flesh. As the lights spun around themselves into the sky, dispersing over the barrenness of the canyon, an assembly of fully formed bodies was left standing before me, heads bowed in submission. Yet, they were still. Though restored in body, lungs still lacked breath.

 

The sphere of light pulsated at my side, drawing my attention, and then spoke again. “Now, prophesy to the winds, child of earth. Tell these children how they will be restored and it shall be done.”

 

Stepping to the front of my little platform once more, I held my arms out at my sides and called to the multitude before me. “As the Father of Lights has spoken, let life and breath flow in from the four winds. Come and breathe into these dead bodies so that they may life again and the light be returned to their sleeping souls!”

 

Before the words were even off my tongue a thunderous current rushed through the valley, roaring between the earthen walls on either side of me. Steeling myself against the force of the air, I looked to the light beside me as dust and stone cut through the air, carried by the hands of the wind. The gusts threatened to throw us from the stone pillar we stood on, but the light only pulsated, as if to nod towards the valley below.

 

Throughout the deadened basin a white mist had rolled in, led by the gale. Weaving between the undead bodies, streams of mist twisted about each of the figures, adorning them in battle clothes and forming swords, shields, and bows and arrows in their hands before funneling themselves into the mouths of the soldiers, filling their lungs and beckoning them back to the realm of the living. At once, the soldiers’ eyes opened with a piercing gleam in each one, and they once again turned their faces to the sky. Inhaling and gasping for breath like a swimmer saved from drowning, the whole crowd began to cough and heave and breathe all along the length of the valley where their bones had once been scattered. Now rather than a sea of bones, they comprised a great army as they regained their breath and stood in formation before the risen pillar on which I stood.

 

The light then lilted to my side and pulsed again, as if to put a hand on my shoulder, before saying, “Child of earth, these bones represent my chosen people, a people that was once dead and a people that I am now restoring to life. While they were still asleep, they called out to me, saying that they had become nothing but old, dry bones, all their hope evaporating into the desert air like the moisture from their deceased flesh. They believed their nation was extinct, like creatures of old, but I have a new message for them, so prophesy to my people once more to tell them what I have to say.”

 

With the light beside me, I once again stood before the army gathered in the valley below, looking over the now endless crowd of living and breathing bodies, with light once again shining in their eyes and the air they breathed in once again nourishing their newly revived spirits. Closing my eyes, I felt the words well up inside of me, allowing them to flow out of me as I looked over this crowd.

 

“Listen to what the Father of Lights says, you dry bones who have been restored. He says that he will exhume your graves of exile and desolation and cause you to rise again. He will bring you back to the land you one inhabited, and when this comes to pass, you will know who he is. He will return his spirit to your bodies and you will live again in your homeland. Then, you will know that he has spoken and done what he promised he would do, for this is what he has spoken.”

 

At these words, a tremendous cry swelled from the ranks, quickly filling the valley until the sound burst up from the fractured earth. All the soldiers lifted their faces to the heavens and jabbed their arms in the air as the ball of light cast golden beams across the valley, dispelling any shadows from the walls and shining on every face. And as the cheers died down, each one in the army mirrored the next in turn, bringing one fist to his or her chest and then kneeling in the dirt and dust before the light that illuminated the valley that was once filled with corpses but was now filled with rejuvenated souls.