Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"War Of Self" 3-Page Short Story, ENGL-31 Draft

I wrote this as an assignment in my Creative Writing class at Shasta College. I was limited to three pages, and I didn't have as much time to write a great story as I'd have liked, but oh well. I'm posting on here simply for feedback - PLEASE let me know where this piece could improve! Thank you!
Dustin Harms
September 9, 2014

“War Of Self” Test Text, Fantasy Fiction, Short Story, PG, Risk 5/10

The crescent moon was high in the ebon sky, and deep winter’s bite weaved through the parapets when they came.
Olander stood hunched behind the wall, rubbing his frosted hands together as the low rumble of war began to reverberate up from the ground. At first, he didn’t believe it. Was some beast of the earth gathering its breath and clawing up from the ground with its massive limbs? No, these were footsteps. Many, many footsteps - and they drew near, like the churning advancement of a flood.
His place in the watch had been purely ornamental, he had been assured. This land hadn’t seen war in a century, and the only true duty that he felt was to stay alive during these cold nights as he kept watch over the bleak nothingness that surrounded the city. He was thin and wiry, not like the burly oafs that held the day watches. They stood proud for all to see during daytime, as the King flaunted his observable army the way a child would always show his finest toys to friends, while keeping the less-than-impressive ones in the cupboard.
The night watch was Olander’s cupboard. It made him a living, though; enough to support his meager lifestyle of near-nonexistence. He wasn’t as boisterous as the other watchmen, but it was something of what he imagined a life to be like.
He had even made friends amongst the oafs, and though he didn’t physically fit in, they all took him as the runt little brother, and treated him so. It didn’t bother him, except when they ruthlessly assaulted him in their various wargames. Olander saw them as pointless, and endured the inclusion simply for his friends’ entertainment.
That night, though, the games became all-too-important, and as he scrambled up the nearest rough-hewn ladder to peek out across the horizon, the flickering torches - there must have been a thousand - were each like burning reminders of his unpreparedness.
He half-fell down the ladder as he made haste to the barracks, tripping and running into scaffolding as he went. He slammed up against the heavy, splintered door, his hands frantically finding the latch, and finally swinging the doors wide with as much force as his twig arms would permit.
“An army! An army! Coming from the East! Wake up, wake up!” Olander was nearly breathless as he ran around the cots, jabbing the bodies of his comrades. He made his way to Grennan’s bunk, near the back of the room, gasping.
“Grennan! Grennan! An army is coming! What do we do?!” Olander was shouting hoarsely at the one man in the watch he would consider his true friend. The hardy, muscular Grennan slowly rolled over under his wool blanket, his face barely emerging as his eyes started to open, and his grizzled face began to crack a grin.
“Hmm, I suppose that means we fight, young buck.” Grennan’s vast hand came up to grasp Olander’s shoulder, giving him a wild shake, “Are you ready to fight, brother?!”
The comparatively fawnish man stared for a moment. He hadn’t considered that. Fighting? Of course he wasn’t ready to fight. How could the Captain of the Guard, though his best friend, ask of him such a thing? Surely, he must have been joking. Just a jest, like Grennan always does. Yes, just a joke. He would stay within the city and...tend to the horses. Yes, the horses needed tending. What if he’s serious? Was he going to put his life, which all of the sudden seemed terribly frail, on the line next to these beasts of men, warriors to the teeth?
He stammered as all the thoughts hit him at once. “I, uhm... I don’t think so, Grennan. I have to... do things. Here. Not out there.”
Grennan’s demeanor went stern in a flash, and he leaned up from his bed to within just inches of Olander’s pale face. “You will fight. I don’t have you in my Guard to muck out stables, Olander. You are here, and you will defend our city with your life, just as we all will. It’s what warriors do. We fight.” He gave Olander another shake as the grin re-emerged.
He leaned back and swung out of his bunk, standing easily a head taller than his ever-more-shocked friend. “Everyone up! We’ve got a home to defend!” His voice was booming and filled the whole barracks with victorious substance. The soldiers immediately jumped out of bed and began arming themselves. Grennan threw on his studded leather corselet and grabbed the mighty broadsword leaning against his bunk in one sweeping motion, then stomped into his boots and made his way for the door that was still swinging ajar. He dragged Olander with him, and shoved a spare spatha from the weapon rack into the young man’s flailing hands.
Once outside, Grennan turned to his friend once again, his voice low, but surprisingly lighthearted, “Just stay next to me, friend. We’ll get through this together, or we’ll bask in the glory of death as equals.”
I’m voting for the former, Olander thought as he tried to regain his composure, running after Grennan, his guard outfit flopping around loosely about his wire-framed body.
At last they reached the forward parapet. Grennan stood as a proud statue before rest of the watch, which had gathered below like fans looking upon their champion, and Olander was poised a ways behind him, sinking into the darkness.
Grennan’s voice trumpeted in the night. “Friends, we have suffered peace too long it seems. Most would never dream of this day, but as warriors, we embrace what comes for us with axe and sword. Tonight we stand for our beloved city, for our families, and for each other. We will keep this enemy at bay, or they shall have to climb over every single one of our bodies before they will ever breach this wall. We are beasts of men, warriors to the teeth!”
“Beasts of men, warriors to the teeth!” the crowd called back, thrusting their weapons to pierce the suppressing chill of the night. Olander pondered them behind his friend. They are like sheep, willing to be slaughtered. Not only willing, but hoping. He started to divide the group into those who would be alive in the morning, and those who would not. Pointless. All pointless. He shook his head.
The enemy’s forces were closing fast, and the archers of the Guard began to release their deathly rain upon them. The mass of lights swarmed in nevertheless, seemingly unaffected. The figureless bodies marched on like a sea of fire coming to encompass them all. They churned closer and closer, their shouts a chaotic cacophony filling the void between them and their quarry. The hairs on the back of Olander’s neck rose in frightened response, with trembling hands gripping his sword as he looked frantically about across the wall. The Guard was fixed in their places, staring into the mass of incoming bodies as sternly as Death itself. The moments of approach seemed to last forever.
Suddenly, the army crashed into the wall with a thunderous calamity. Spears and arrows flew both ways, hailing misery all around. Overwhelmed with fright, Olander ran toward the stairs to the lower defense behind the wall, dodging projectiles frantically. As he came near to the platform atop the stairway, an archer, Jale, turned towards him, rushing to the top of the steps before the fleeing Olander.
“Going somewhere, young buck? I thought your post was up with Grennan. You know there’s no safer pl-” As Olander came screeching to a halt to meet his  compatriot, a javelin darted over the wall, straight through Jale’s torso. The steel head shone glistening wet before Olander’s eyes as he stared in shock. Frozen, he reached for Jale as he began to topple, life being leached out by the second.
Nothing had prepared him for that. There was a new level of perverse reality that set in at that moment, as Olander lowered his friend to the cold stone walkway atop the wall. Voiceless, Jale simply stared up at him, and Olander began to wonder what it was that this archer might say in his last breath, but there was no breath. It never came. All that was in that juncture was finality. Jale was gone, and Olander felt as if he was going as well.
He looked up to see the horror of battle. People were falling all around him now, rigid warriors becoming lifeless rag dolls, rewarded for their steadfastness with arrows and swords. There were enemies on the wall now, slicing and hacking wildly at his friends. Everything was foggy and he had trouble even getting his body to move.
He turned around to see a figure advancing, weapon raised. One of his own rushed in from behind and struck the adversary on the side of the head with a mallet. Olander heard the crunch of bone somehow through the dissonance of battle noise, and stared in gasping shock as his recent savior was run through from the side immediately afterwards, his voice unable to call out a warning.
So the battle raged as Olander crawled about, making every effort in his limited consciousness to get free of this horror. He made his way to the bottom of the wall where the soft ground caught him by surprise with its comfort. He turned to look toward the upper bastion, where he could make out Grennan, hurling foes left and right, fodder of seemingly the most evil sort. He was entranced by his friend, mighty and gallant, standing atop the wall as a figure of imperviousness.
Time seemed to pass slowly from the vantage of Olander’s grassy deathbed. Then, a sudden shift took him by surprise. After a cry from the attackers and a seemingly instantaneous scrambling retreat, the whole courtyard was still, like a tsunami had just come and gone, leaving nothing but unrecognizable wreckage and bodies heaped in futile resistance.
The quiet enveloped him, and its unsettling wake consumed every bit of his willingness to live. Grennan was kneeling on top of the wall over the heaps of his friends, and suddenly Olander pondered his contribution to this outcome, and as he lay there, swimming in remorse, he began to look at valiance very differently. His heart sank, the sun started to rise, and he began to wish that his body was to be counted amongst the dead.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dangers Of A Daily Bicycle Commuter

This may strike a few of you as different than my normal blog posts, but I hope you enjoy this all the same, in spite of hyperbole.

Biking is a fantastic way to get around a city. There is no fuel, insurance, or passengers to worry about. It's just you, your bike, the road, AND OH MY GOSH THAT GIGANTIC DUALLY TRUCK.

Here are --- things a daily bicyclist commuter will relate to:

1.) Large vehicles. Usually, these vehicular beasts' tailpipes blast loud enough that you can hear them coming, but considering that they barely fit in their lane, it's not uncommon to have a near-death experience as one passes with a few of it's tires on the white line. (Almost always piloted by a single person, for whatever reason.)

2.) "Bike Lanes". Of course, when I say "bike lanes" I mean that space between the white stripe and whatever gaping chasm or wasteland beyond. Thankfully, these usually come with enough space for your tire, but the space isn't the issue, is it? These also appear in the half-asphalt, half-sidewalk variety. You know what I'm talking about. Split right down the middle, these lanes have something like a small cliff dividing each surface, creating a riding area where you literally cannot stay in the middle without the risk of sliding out.

3.) Debris. Aka, "bike lane obstructions", or, "death". Gravel, trash, branches, sand, nails. Consisting of anything and everything that can cause you to lose traction. Debris is the stuff that tenses you up and makes you feel like you're running the gauntlet even in your pretty little space outside the white line. Often unknowingly housing the next little hazards on this list...

4.) Thorns. Robbers of rubber. Terrors of the tire. Troublemakers of the tube. These little devils can turn a commuter into a part-time bike mechanic. Not always immediately noticeable, you're apt to continue unknowingly until your ride is so jarring you think you're riding a jackhammer.

5.) Sweat. You're always sweaty. Always. It doesn't matter what precautions you take, wherever you're going, you are sure to arrive sodden. Add a backpack to the mix and you've got a racing stripe!

6.) Helmet Head. It's the style that we all share, with hair in bumps that never seem to go away after being superglued in place by your perspiration.

7.) Grease spots. Everywhere. How did they get on the back sides of my hands? We may never know. Beside the almost-permanent chain tattoo on your shin, the mystery spots everywhere on your body make you look even more mechanic-like.

8.) The weather. Do you find yourself checking the forecast enough times per day to be an apprentice meteorologist? I never have considered the weather as much as I do now that I'm a daily commuter.

9.) Traffic laws. If policemen rode bicycles, they would witness more broken traffic laws than a kid playing Grand Theft Auto.

10.) Distance. This becomes a major factor in your plans, as you actually have to calculate the time it will take you to suit up, get there, and change into normal clothes and clean up the aforementioned sweat puddles.

11.) Unsure drivers. Sometimes people just don't know what to do with a bicyclist. Awkward standoffs, ridiculously wide berths around you in the road, you name it. Drivers just don't know how to handle us sometimes.

12.) Death. Everywhere. We live and ride in constant danger, and have to be super-aware in order to stay unharmed. In 2012, there were 726 bicyclist deaths and 49,000 injuries in the U.S., and not all were caused by motorists. We have to be aware every second of any possible hazard. Sometimes bicycling is a scary thing, especially if your area doesn't have decent facilities. We are like 2-wheeled daily daredevils. It's actually kind of awesome.

All that said, why do we bike? For the exercise? Environment? Necessity? For me, it's the silent time. I've recently quit using headphones while commuting, both for safety and for the silent time. Sure, it's a silence filled with motorists and street-sounds, but it's time to think. Sure, it takes longer to get places, but as it's been said, "The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination."

Have a great day, folks. Be safe.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Stop Feeling Sorry For Me (Why I'm Thankful For My "Disability")

(Note: I should preface this with the statement that I am not anti-healing by any means. I've laid hands on people and seen God heal them in amazing ways. I'm not against that, and that's not what this is about, so please, keep that in mind as you read. Thanks.)

I want to start out by saying that I originally started this blog post with a fairly detailed history of my life, my "challenges" and the things I went through growing up. After some consideration, though, I deleted the whole thing. This post is not about me. It's about perception.

I seem to get into this conversation fairly often, as I sit in coffee shops, libraries, small groups and various other public places. It usually starts with someone noticing me reading my phone 8 inches from my face, or leaning in to look at the details of a picture on my computer screen. As it was today, it started with me flipping open my magnifying glass to read a word in order to help someone find synonyms. No matter what the original topic, I constantly encounter a phrase like this:

"Hey, I really want to pray for your eyes. I feel like God just wants to deliver you from that disability."

Really? You, having just met me not a minute ago, want to remove something that has been a part of my life since I was born? Something that you have not dealt with, or even understand?

Not the reaction you were expecting? It never is in this scenario.

I could go into detail, but I'll give you the general slough of what follows:

"That affliction is not from God."

"God wants you to be whole!"

"God doesn't want you to suffer anymore. He wants to unleash your potential."

I'll go as far as saying that I think most people don't think even for a second about the gains that come from various disabilities. They see someone who is lacking, someone who is broken, someone who is lesser. They see a problem that demands a solution. They never stop to think that maybe, just maybe, a person's disability has done some good things for them.

Want me to elaborate? Of course you do, because this doesn't make any sense. How could someone that has to bike everywhere, read with a magnifying glass, and, oh no, rely on people, be considered blessed? How can disability be anything but bad?

Perception. We see reliance and humility as a form of weakness. We see weakness as a problem, thus we try to find a solution. We want the refining without the fire. Is anyone else seeing a problem with this? Paul says that he delights in weaknesses! In fact, he boasts about them! He was even told that God's power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) In James' letter to the twelve tribes, he points out that, "Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position." (James 1:9) He also notes a few verses before that we should consider it pure joy when we face trials. Am I the only one that thinks these guys were being more literal than figurative?

All of you that see weakness as a problem, disability as loss, let me tell you a little bit about my day, and why I wouldn't trade my crappy vision for the world:

Every day, I wake up crushing what the world calls "trials". I grab my huge-text bible and magnifying glass, take pictures of menus on my phone so I can zoom in, hop on my bike and almost get hit constantly, ask for rides to far-off places, run into things in public and laugh, confuse people when my right eye doesn't want to look at them, kindly and sometimes jokingly tell people, "Sorry, no I don't" when they point and ask if I see something, wave anyways when someone honks at me and I have no idea who it is, wander around parking lots aimlessly looking for someone I was trying to meet, and practice worship music for hours because I can't sight-read a sheet. What may look like difficulty and embarrassment to you, I see as an opportunity to be humble, to find joy, and rely; both on God and on people. Whatever someone does with perfect vision, I push myself to do just as well with imperfect vision. It is a driving force that motivates me and sharpens me. I have gained more humility, more understanding, more grace, more perseverance, more motivation, more appreciation, more patience and more intimacy with God because of what you call a "disability" than any other factor in my life. People with disabilities have an inclination to overcome. We have a penchant for prevailing, no matter what kind of effort or ingenuity it takes.

I should feel sorry for you.

You who consider these things troublesome, inconvenient, humiliating and maybe outright dangerous. You who see me as someone to take pity on. You who don't understand humility. I feel sorry that you don't have the opportunity to practice what it means to be "least of these" on a daily, hourly, every-second-of-the-day basis. You are missing out on something that God has offered for a long, long time: Joy in all circumstances.

You are the one lacking. You are the one that is "disabled".

Remember that He is always working for the good of those that love him -- in all things. I don't think Christianity is meant to be a heal-all fix-all. I think it's a perception-changer. It's a hope and a joy that those that aren't participating don't understand. It's putting spiritual over physical. It's a renewal that makes you focus outward instead of inward. It's a life of paradoxes and mystery, but still somehow bathed in truth. It's an upside-down kingdom we're all invited to. It's love...but it's messy. So, for what weakness are you thankful today?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My First Gig Ever, And A Lot Of Rain

Every musician, from the moment they decide to start their career, dreams of the day they finally get on that stage and perform for an audience. While I can't say that that has been my motivation for musical progress, I will say that I was very excited when I found out that the band that I have just joined, Before Serenity, was doing a performance just one week after I had joined. Yes, I was excited, but also very nervous. How was I going to get prepared for this? I didn't even know their songs from listening, let alone know them by heart for performing. So, I was in a bit of a pickle, but nothing that some good old fashioned practice couldn't handle.

I practised quite a bit in the week beforehand, obviously. I probably could have fit a few more hours in, but I at least got to the point where I had heard, and played through, each song at least once. Was I prepared? Of course not. I literally couldn't even remember how most of the songs went. Then, at the last moment, we decided to play two more songs that I wasn't familiar with, as well as a cover song, which I learned on the last day. I basically set myself up for a terrible performance.

Here is where the story begins.

It had been raining here in Redding for about 3 days before the gig. There was no obvious sign of it letting up for Saturday night, either, and instead, it seemed to pour down just that much harder. So, if I were to make a recipe for fail, it would probably include one part pouring rain, one part uncovered pickup truck, and at least 15 parts musical equipment. We had to find a way to get two tarps to cover our equipment successfully, and the really important stuff could go in the second car.

Well, to put it shortly, we were putting the tarp on in the pouring rain, and we probably didn't do our best. We loaded up our equipment, and headed out on our 45 or so minute adventure up to Mt. Shasta City. Unfortunately, within the first 15 minutes we realized that our tarps weren't doing much at all. Our equipment was getting soaked, and the tarp was beating on the cab of our truck like some stampede of wild buffalo. I had a BOSS pedal board in between my legs, and our extra cab Chevy was uncomfortably seating six people.

We arrive, and are welcomed with open arms. This was a relief, since the rain sure wasn't letting up, and even if we were getting poured on, at least we were in a good mood. So, we unload and start to set up. Every piece of equipment that went up made my nerves escalate more and more. I knew that, at this point, there was no way I could play everything correctly. I couldn't even remember chords to three of the songs, let alone how to play them. Our equipment was finally ready, thanks to the help of friends and the coffee house staff, and we were ready to go.

We had a nice break before the show, when we were served with very...interesting varieties of pizza. I found a slice that had broccoli on it, even. As gross as this might sound, I can say that it was some delicious pizza. Then, between the fatal mix of nervousness and various unhealthy edibles, I started to get a nice little stomach ache, not to mention that I was still sick with my now-two-month-long sickness. So, while popping cough drops left and right, I walked up on stage to start the performance.

Fortunately, there weren't many people there, besides friends and family. Still, I was nervous, and the show was starting. At this point, I found out what our set list was. The first song was one of the ones I didn't quite remember, too. I tried to concentrate, which pretty much meant I made some faces to our drummer. Fortunately, when the song started, the practice came back to me, and somehow I pulled through the song.

The rest of the first set, I messed up countless times. Fortunately, it didn't seem like the audience noticed much. Sure, I started out one of our songs completely the wrong way, and one other song I basically didn't play loud enough for anyone to hear (because I forgot the chord progressions), but I got through.

We got a break, and got to hang out for a little bit before our second set. We talked, drank some beverages, and played a little pool before we jumped back up on stage. Most of the audience left, and the house was mostly empty at this point. I pretty much lost all of my inhibitions, and I wasn't nervous at all any more. The last set didn't really matter, so we had a lot of fun with it. Our singer, while telling the story of one of our song's origin, accidentally used a friend of our's name instead of one from the Bible story. I rocked out, moved around, and had a blast. It's my opinion that I played better the second time, but maybe that's just because I was having more fun.

The show ended, and after all of the wrap-up and chit-chat, we had to load our equipment again, in the rain. Well, our crafty drummer pulled the pick-up to the front door of the coffee shop, which made loading easier, and a bit less wet. We re-tied the tarps, and fortunately, this time they held, and kept our equipment mostly dry for the ride home. Unfortunately, they still got soaked from the unloading process once we got back to the house, but we can just count our blessings.

So, what did I learn?

Well, I learned that I need to practice a lot more before I play live again. Also, I now know the pain that is unloading and re-loading equipment. I guess it's good to have a troublesome first experience. Now I feel much more content in knowing that the next time I play will be much, much better. I learned that a live performance can bring people together, and that, when everyone works together, it can make something seemingly painful turn into something completely fun and interesting. I barely noticed the rain, really.

Much love,


Saturday, October 16, 2010

One Season Ends, And Another Begins

So, this is where my life gets crazy. For a little background information, I can offer to you that I am 21 years old, and I have been sort of wandering for the last 2 years. I haven't had an official job for the last 3, but somehow I get by.

This last week, my life got crazy. I jumped in a van with an old friend, and drove back to Redding (one of my recent locations of residence), and was joined by a family of amazing people. Now, over this last week, I have joined a new family (totaling 6, at the moment), become a member of an amazing Christian rock band (Before Serenity), and decided to pursue a higher education. After seeming to have 3 years of vacation (though it wasn't all fun and games for the least bit), I am planning on getting my Bachelor's in Psychology, pursuing my careers as both a writer and a musician, as well as getting my life back together both in my faith and my friendships.

So, in summation, I have made more progress in my life's dreams in the last week than I seem to have done in the last 3 years. I am extremely excited for the future for once, and I am glad to be laughing and smiling again, with the best friends that I could ever ask for. Please stay tuned for all sorts of stuff from band information and stories to life lessons. Thank you for reading, and God Bless.

Much love,