Avalon 1.6: Freedom

After 4320 BC in the Mountains of Southern China.  Kairos:  Xiang


            The rain was hard and pelted them like a flood.  The travelers had to stop and take time to adjust their fairy weave clothing to make slickers with hoods and boots to resist the water.  Then they trudged forward only to have Lockhart drag them to the nearby cliffs.  It was close enough to sundown that he felt it was not worth forcing them through that downpour.  In fact, he decided the sooner they found some shelter, the better.

            Lockhart was thrilled to find that there was a cave in the side of the cliffs as he had hoped.  An overhang would not have served nearly as well the way the wind was whipping around.  What made him pause, and made them all pause was the fact that there was already a campfire burning in the cave.  They could see the light and smell the meat that was cooking.

            “Our path is this way.”  Doctor Procter pointed away from the cave.

            “Forget that,” Boston said, and she walked boldly into the light.  The others followed and were only a bit surprised to find a single man sitting there.  A whole deer was roasting away and it smelled delicious.

            “Come in.  Come in.”  The man said, and they all thought he was a very young man.  “Get yourselves dry and warm by the fire.

            “Thank you.”  Lockhart said it before Alexis could.  “It is pretty rough out there.”

            “Well,” the man grinned at some internal thought.  “The rain was overdue and there is a place of soft dirt some five days march from here.  With luck it may come loose and slide to the bottom, and maybe bring some boulders with it.”

            “That’s an odd thought,” Lieutenant Harper noted while she checked her rifle.

            “When can we expect the rest of your group?”  Captain Decker wondered.

            “Just me,” the young man said.  “This deer is for you.  We were expecting you, and when you came through I rushed here.  I hope you don’t mind.”

            “No.  Not at all.  Great.”  They said.

            “Thank you very much.”  Alexis got to say it after all.  “I’m Alexis.”

            “I know who you are,” the young man interrupted.  “I am Shengi, god of the mountain or I should say mountains.”

            They all paused at various points in disrobing and did not know what to say until Boston spoke.  “You’re not a hundred yet, are you?”

            Shengi looked up at her.  He could have easily been offended, but instead he smiled.  “Is it that obvious young Mary Riley but everyone calls me Boston?”

            “No.”  Boston shook her head and returned his smile.  Then she turned to the others and explained.  “A god isn’t considered fully mature until he is at least a hundred.”

            “Oh.”  People went back to taking off their wet things and inching toward the fire.  It was not only raining torrents, it was a cold rain on the mountain.  Then Lincoln had a thought.

            “What did you mean when you said “we” were expecting you?”

            Shengi stood and invited Lockhart and Lieutenant Harper to take his place.  “Xiang,” he said.  “She said you had not come in her whole life and had to come soon.”

            “The Kairos,” Boston said.

            Shengi nodded.  “But not official for several more lifetimes.”

            “Why soon?”  Lincoln was still suspicious.

            “Because she is dying,”  Shengi turned his back on them, but it took no insight to know he was fighting tears at the thought.  When he turned back, he had a word for Alexis.  “And you are not permitted to heal her.”

            Alexis looked down at the fire.

            “And why is she dying?”  Lockhart thought to ask.

            “Because I screwed up,” Shengi said and Roland gasped at the thought.  “Do not be surprised, good elf.  It is more common than you think.  But here, I am responsible for events.”  He knelt by the fire and began to cut pieces of the deer and passed them out.  There were vegetables as well, roasted, but not burnt, and Alexis quickly made some bread to complete the meal while Shengi explained.

            “My cousin and I devised a plan to advance the people in civilization.  Her land is good land by the river, the one Xiang calls the Yangtze.  We started by devising a competition between the people.  It escalated to a struggle.  We helped our own far more than we should.  At last, we became the ones in competition and I would not lose to her.”  Shengi clearly stiffened his upper lip before he finished.  “Xiang is leading two thirds of her people to safety over the mountain.  They will enter the safe lands of the Whirlwind that she calls Laos.  One third of the people are demon possessed and hungry for blood, to steal, kill and destroy.”

            “That is what demons do,” Alexis said.  She went to church regularly since becoming human.

            Shengi sighed.  “I am responsible for the infestation of demons, and once the matter with Xiang is settled I will spend the next several hundred years cleaning up my mess.”

            “We are responsible.”  They heard another voice, and a woman stepped out of the dark.  She was beautiful beyond word and because of that they all knew she was a goddess.  “I am not going to let you take all the fallout from this.”  Shengi looked up at the woman with gratitude.  She bent down and kissed him gently, smack on the lips.  “We have to stick together, we do.”  Shengi just nodded, and then Lockhart, Lincoln and Roland all spoke at more or less the same time.

            “Nagi.”  They had met the woman back in the days of Keng.

            Nagi looked around for the first time and then turned her back on them all, the way Shengi had.  “What is this feeling?”  She asked.  Everyone stayed quiet as Nagi let out a little gasp.  “It is shame.  I feel ashamed of what I did.  I have never felt that feeling before.”  She spun around, but instead of the anger they feared, she also sported a look of gratitude as Shengi had shown just moments before.

            “You have done nothing to be ashamed of,” Shengi said.

            “But you don’t know all I have done,” Nagi responded.  “These people do not know the details, but I feel ashamed in any case.”  She paused and lowered her eyes.  “I would say I am sorry, but the gods are not supposed to say that, if you follow me.”

            “If I thought it was safe I would give you a hug,” Boston said, and Nagi gladly stepped over and hugged her. 

            “But now, Shengi and I must go.”

            “I think you make a fine couple.” Alexis said, having read the look Nagi gave to the young man.  “Don’t you think so, father?”

            “Lovely,” Mingus said.

            Nagi returned a knowing smile to Alexis.  “But then, you are older than I am.  You should know about such things.”

            “Wait,” Captain Decker got their attention since he was sure their interview was over.  “This looks more like a tunnel than a cave.  May I ask what is back there?”

            “Trolls,” Shengi admitted.  “But I have set a hedge for the night.  They will not bother you.”

            “Great.”  Lincoln said, but he said no more as Shengi and Nagi vanished before their eyes.

            “What is great about trolls?”  Roland asked.  Clearly he did not like having trolls around.

            “I was being sarcastic,” Lincoln admitted.  “With trolls behind us and demon possessed people ahead of us I doubt I’ll get much sleep.”

            “Poor baby,” Alexis slipped her arm around Lincoln’s waist.  “I’ll protect you.”

            Doctor Procter chose that moment to come in out of the rain and dark.  “It is really coming down out there and no sign of a let-up,” he said as he took off his wet things.

            The others just stared at him since none of them realized he was not in the cave.  Mingus was the one who finally spoke.

            “And you were where?”

            “Just checking the distance and direction for the morning.  I wasn’t getting a good reading inside the cave for some reason.”

            “But you just got over being sick,” Alexis worried.

            “But I am over,”  Doctor Procter said as he came up to the fire.  “Dead animal.  Good, I’m starving.”  No one said a word in response.

One Writer’s mid-week Writing Secrets 1: Tell a Story.

Sorry, I don’t have a link but I would recommend reading the Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, August 29-30, page W3 in the culture section.  The article is by Lev Grossman, and it is titled:  Storytelling.  Good Books Don’t Have to Be Hard.  And it is subtitled:  A novelist on the pleasure of reading stories that don’t bore… My response is:  Amen.  Whether you are writing fiction or embarked on some journalistic enterprise (or writing journalistic-fiction which is all too common these days) it helps to have a story! 

Grossman blames our view of what constitutes “great writing” (literature) on the modernists in the 1920s who objected to the Victorian novels that tied everything up in a nice, neat ending.  Faced with all of the changes that came with modern life, these authors said, (recognized) that life did not work out in nice and neat ways, and so they produced such works as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” “The Age of Innocence,” “Ulysses,” “A Passage to India,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “The Sound and the Fury,” and so on.  These all may be great books in their way, but the truth is (and Grossman says it well) they are too hard on the reader.  As he points out, “imagine what it felt like the first time somebody opened up “The Waste Land” and saw that it came with footnotes.” 

To be sure, all of these great works by great writers have produced in us a sense that quality writing must be like theirs:  “Mainstream” or “Literary;” yet, like the impressionist painters that revolutionized the art world, they have had their day.  The day of the “Mainstream” or “Literary” novel (so-called) is over.  To put it more succinctly:  modern literature had its time and place, but we are now living in a post modern age.

Thank goodness story is making a comeback.  Clearly, story is what readers want.    As Grossman points out, “Sales of young adult books (where the unblushing embrace of storytelling is allowed) are up 30.7% so far this year (through June)… while adult hardcovers are down 17.8%.  Nam Lee’s “The Boat,” one of the best reviewed books of fiction in 2008 has sold 16,000 copies in hardcover and trade paperback according to Nielsen Bookscan… (while) the author of the “Twilight” series, Stephanie Meyer, sold eight million.”

My point would be that it pays to have a story to tell.  Readers want this.  Writers – Serious Writers are discovering this.  Agents and Publishers are a little slower, but I believe they will follow the money.  My hope is that someday maybe even the reviewers will catch up.

You remember story:  Beginning, middle and End.  Yes, I said end.  True, these days we might not wrap everything up in a neat Victorian ribbon.  (The lessons of the modernists were valid to some extent).  In our day, Scrooge might have a relapse.  (We would call that a sequel).  But still, a story ought to have some resolution, some conclusion; it needs to reach a point where one can honestly type:  THE END.  It should no longer be acceptable to end a story, “because my fingers got tired of typing so I went to bed.”

“But what of Great Literature and true Stream of Consciousness writing, and etc.?”  As Jessica would say, with a snap of her gum, a click of her tongue and a roll of her eyes, “That is so last century!”


Writing Tip 1: 

Tell a story.  Tell a good story.  Grab the reader.  Take them through whatever twists or turns exist, and when you are done, let them go.  This can still be great literature, and I believe it will be how the future sees literature.  You can say all you want to say about life, liberty and the pursuit in a story.  You can make great points, Dickens did, but first of all make it a good read, because if it is good enough, along with lasting beyond the lifetime of a blog, someone just might pay you for it.

— Michael