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.