Okay, the theme of Bazelli’s “Author Aerobics” this week was a tad too irresistable. As soon as I read her post, I had an opening line in mind. Shortly thereafter followed the main character. It took only a little longer to come up with the situation. I’m still really busy with school and related challenges, so this is kind of cheating. But the idea stuck, so here we are.
The challenge was thus:
“Show, don’t tell.” You hear it over and over again. It’s one of the most often quoted ‘rules of writing’, but pick any novel off your shelf, and you’ll find that the authors do not just show, they also tell. Perhaps the reason that we’re encouraged to “show” is because, in unskilled hands, telling can be badly done.
This week’s challenge: Write a piece of short fiction (1000 words or less) that involves ‘good’ telling. The theme for this week: “afterlife.”
That being the case, I present to you another little fantasy flash piece, clocking in at 1,076 words, entitled:
From That Eternal Summer Isle
By: Stephen Watkins
The sky was blue on the day I died. That came as some surprise. Not so much that the sky was blue, but that I died. Or that I was able to remark on the color of the sky at all.
I’ve never been one to believe in the afterlife. Nor in the gods, or any of that other claptrap. Maybe I’ve spent too much time with the humans.
But there you go. One day you’re a high-powered real-estate broker wheeling and dealing on penthouse suites and downtown high-rises, driving fast, expensive cars, and generally living the good life. The next, you wake up on that Eternal Summer Isle.
Sure, like all good kids I’d been raised on stories of the silver-sailed ships that bear you over the seas to the Halls of the Eternal Summer Isle, to live in perpetuity with the twenty-four gods and goddesses who rule there. Nevermind the absurdity of an immortal race dreaming up an afterlife myth for themselves, but I’ve traveled this whole world over and I can assure you, there’s no island you can reach by sail where it’s a perpetually verdant seventy-two and sunny lorded over by a couple dozen deities. I’ve seen no evidence for the existence of those gods, but in my seven-hundred and fifty years of life, I’ve seen plenty of evidence supporting the notion that elves are immortal.
So, yeah, it came as some surprise not only that I was dead, but that I was somehow aware of being dead.
I nearly jumped out of my skin as someone called my name. Hey. I still had skin! I turned to face the speaker, and my eyes nearly fell out of my head. Here was a radiant being: a creature of roughly elvish height, with long, pointed ears, and a flowing white beard. Another incongruity for you: elves don’t have beards; why would elvish gods? Light surrounded him like he bathed in a nebula, and the little glowy bits somehow clung to his skin. I felt cowed, for a moment.
“I’m dead, aren’t I?”
“Yes.” The bearded elf-god nodded sadly. “Yes and no.”
“What happened?” I asked, confused.
“You were struck down by heavenly fire, in order that your spirit might be summoned here.”
“You mean to say, I was struck by lightning from a clear blue sky?”
The glowing god-person turned away, avoiding my question. It was a rhetorical question, anyway.
He turned back toward me. “You’ve been summoned because we need a representative on the Earth. Someone to carry the message of the Lords of the Eternal Summer Isles. The fate of Earth depends on it.”
“Whoa, there, sparky. Don’t you think there are a few flaws in your plan? For one, until about five minutes ago, I didn’t even believe in you. For that matter, I’m dead. I can’t exactly play messenger-boy if I’m stuck here on your infernal Summer Isle!”
The god-elf waved dismissively. “Your death is a small thing. It is a simple feat for the Lords of the Summer Isle to send your spirit back to New York, there to reincarnate your former body, to return you to the life you knew.”
“And supposing you did that. I liked what I had going there. I liked being human. I mean, what could you possibly need me for, seeing as you have power over life and death. And why would I want to help you with it, anyway?”
“You liked pretending to be human, Mark.” The god-elf smirked. “But you were never one of them. Not really. Your heart was always in Faerie. And here, in the Summer Isles.”
I frowned slightly, pointedly. He had dodged my question again. He turned and gestured for me to follow.
“Walk with me, Mark.”
What could I say? I walked with him.
For several minutes he lead me in silence along a strand of pure-white beach bordered on one side by an impossibly azure sea and on the other by blindingly green foliage. He left no footprints. I shuffled to catch up with him. “Look, Mister… uh…” I trailed off. There were a dozen gods and a dozen goddesses in the elvish pantheon, and I didn’t believe in a one of them, so how was I supposed to distinguish one from another?
“Orowen,” the god-elf filled in for me.
“Look, Mister Orowen, whatever it is you want done, I’m the wrong guy. You send me back, and I’m back to fast cars and high-rise penthouses. I’m no prophet for the gods.”
“Mark Warner,” Orowen’s voice was calm and confident, “You are the only guy. You’ve lived your life among the humans. You even have a human name. You’re as one among them. And they will have need of you. They are not prepared for the coming rise of the Dark Lord of Mordack.”
The Dark Lord of Mordack. Another fairy-tale, this one the part that’s supposed to scare kids straight. Frankly, I thought the name sounded just a bit silly. Orowen must have noted the uncertainty on my face.
“The Dark Lord has marshaled his forces to overthrow the rule of mankind and to enslave them by his cunning devices, and the humans, being as they are, are unprepared for the threat he poses. The death and destruction that will arise by the Dark Lord’s coming will be unthinkable. His iron grip will reach even to Faerie.”
“So, you want me to go back there and warn them about the Dark Lord? Why not let one of their own do it?”
“The greater part of the humans have but one god, and even for that they are a disunited and suspicious lot. If that god sent one of their own only, it would breed dissension and contention. So he reached out to us, to aid him in protecting his people. And we, being long allies of the humans and their god, are prepared to aid mankind in the coming struggle against darkness. And for that, we need you, Mark Warren. We need you to spread your message to the humans. And we need you to rally the kin of Faerie to our greater cause. Too long our worlds have stood apart.”
I swallowed hard. It still amazed me. Here I was, dead, and yet I could swallow. Still a little skeptical, I turned to Orowen, trying to read the body-language of a god.
“Alright. What, exactly, do you want me to do?”