Sunday, May 30, 2010

They Call Me Stick

Here's an example of how I write normally.  Hence my creation of a blog that forces me to write funny.

One morning our band came across a big pile of debris. It isn’t hard to find them, even in the gloom; they’re everywhere. The real trick is to get something out.

Leader called us to a halt and the three of us Sticks stood around it while the Mothers and Fire picked over the loose bits. Like always, it was picked clean, but we were tired and sore from walking and not having had nothing to eat for a couple days, so Leader called a rest.

Me and the other Sticks stood as Fire got to work with his special rocks and those pieces of paper he always had with him. I always get nervous when Fire does his thing. It wasn’t like he was going to try to set fire to my stick, but it was all I had, you know? I was relieved when Leader called me over, probably knew how uncomfortable I was. There was a big slab of concrete laying almost flat on the ground in the middle of the pile that must have weighed hundreds of pounds. I guessed it had sat there for the last fifteen years or so, nobody able to move it, but if anyone could shift it, Leader could. First we slid some rocks underneath the lip where it didn’t touch the ground. Then we moved in slightly bigger rocks. A millimeter at a time, we nudged the slab higher and higher.

“Now, wedge your stick in there and pull it like a lever,” Leader said.

That made me more nervous than being near Fire. What if my stick broke? Like I said, it’s all I got. Still, you never question a Leader or else everyone in your band ends up as a pile of bones, so I did. I put my stick in the gap and heaved for all I could. I was only able to move it an inch or so, but Leader managed to stick his hand in and pull out a squashed cardboard box before I had to let it down.

“What did you find?” Mother asked as Leader carried the box back to the group. They were all huddled around the meager fire.

“I was hoping you would tell me,” he said, handing the box to her.

Mother gingerly tore open the box, revealing sheets of slick white plastic, amazingly untouched after all that time. The plastic sheets were bumpy, as if they were filled with air. Both Mothers looked over the letters on them.

“Ke Tchip,” Mother said. “I think it’s food!”

Leader had one of the other Sticks poke it and a red liquid squirted out like thick blood. Stick tasted it and then set on it like she had gone nuts. Leader threw sheets of packets to the rest of us and we tore at them, ripping them with our teeth and sucking it all down. It burned my lips and tongue, but it was food. We ate and ate for hours, licking the packets clean one by one, ignoring the cold of morning. We didn’t even notice the man approaching.

“Hello,” he said weakly.

We all jumped, but nobody jumped as much as us Sticks, who had failed in our duty. While the Mothers and Fire shrank back, I scrambled for my stick, taking my position and swinging the pointed end to face the threat. Only thing was, he wasn’t much of a threat.

It was hard to see in the dim light, but he was stooped and bent. He stumbled forward, moving like his whole body hurt, although I couldn’t see injuries on him. The man seemed so frail that I felt pretty stupid threatening him with my stick.

“I saw you had some food,” the man said. “I was hoping you had some to... share.”

Leader shook his head. It was an stupid thing to ask. There hadn’t been nothing to share in forever.

“Best to move on,” Leader said.

The man walked closer, stopping just inside the light from Fire’s work. I shook my stick at him, thinking I might have to poke him to make him go.

“Leader,” hissed one of the Mothers. “Look! He’s old.”

She was right. There were wrinkles around his eyes and mouth and his hair had grey in it. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine how, he had survived the nuclear war. Somehow he had lived through years of darkness and hunger and hurt and death. Somehow he had lived up to the end of everyone, to stand in front us begging for food. It hurt to think of turning him away, but what could he possibly offer to make us give up food?

“What’s your name?” Leader asked.

“They call me Storyteller.”

I’d never heard of one of him, but Leader must have known, because he waved him over and all us Sticks lowered our weapons. Storyteller hobbled over to take a seat by the fire.

“What kinds of stories do you tell?” Leader said.

“I tell true stories,” Storyteller said. “I tell stories about the world that was and is. I tell stories about the world to come.”

The world to come? I could of laughed.

“I’ve spent my entire life talking to people,” he said, “hearing their stories, uncovering the truth. I have enough stories to last a lifetime of telling.”

“You can have three Ke Tchips,” Leader said tossing him a small sheet, “for a story. We can afford to be kind today.”

Storyteller took his packets and his hands were shaky. He tore the corners off each one and carefully squeezed them into his mouth from above like he was an expert.

“Tell us a story about the past,” Leader said as the man ate. “Where did people hide their things? Is there any food nearby? Clothes? Maybe some weapons?”

Storyteller finished licking his lips before he spoke.

“I don’t tell that kind of story,” he said. I thought Leader was going to kill him. It was smart of him to finish eating before he said that.

“You’re no good to us, then,” Leader said, his teeth all clenched.

Storyteller shrugged like he didn’t care he was surrounded by three Sticks and an angry Leader.

“Let me tell you a story anyway,” he said. “It’s the least I can do for your hospitality.”

Leader shrugged; I guess Leader figured that running the guy off wouldn’t done much good now that the food was gone, so he let him speak. The Mothers and Fire moved closer to hear. The other Sticks and I sat with our backs to him, watching the stones around us, making sure nobody would sneak up again. Still, we listened.

He took a deep breath, and spoke.

“Long ago,” Storyteller said, “the sun shone from morning until night. Some days the clouds would come and bring rain, but there could be months of sunlight and bright blue skies. The summers were hot and dry. People would lie in the sunshine and bake themselves brown, just for fun.”

Storyteller must of talked for hours. He talked about how it was before the war and we hung on every word. We laughed when he told us about how people had squabbled over paper money: worthless to anyone (except maybe a Fire). We cried when he talked about how people used to sacrifice themselves for noble causes. We gasped when he talked about the horrible crimes people committed.

Then he got to the good part. He started to talk about heroes.

“Ah, yes,” he said, and his voice got all shaky, “there were heroes.”

Storyteller told us about men made of steel and women made of stone. He told us how they flew through the sky and were immune to hurt. They were protectors of the weak and destroyers of wrongdoers. They were the best people the world had. Everyone cheered as he told us of what they did and the monsters they fought. Well, everyone cheered except Leader.

“Where did they go?” he said. “Why didn’t they stop the war?”

Storyteller just sighed.

“There’s only so much a hero can do,” he said. “Sometimes there is so much hatred and misunderstanding that nobody can hope to stop it. They tried to get people to stop fighting, to see what they were doing, but nobody would listen. The world’s leaders started meeting in secret. By the time the heroes realized what was happening, it was too late. The missiles were already being launched.”

Storyteller told us how the heroes flew over the Earth, striking the missiles down. They destroyed thousands upon thousands of missiles, sacrificing their own lives as they did. Hundreds of heroes fell to the ground, dead, but they had succeeded in their task. Not a single warhead reached its target. Nobody died. Not one city had been destroyed. There was nothing left of the bombs but poison dust that circled the Earth in a giant cloud. Slowly, it drifted downward.

“The last hero,” Storyteller said, “weak from destroying the missiles, flew around the whole world, whipping the air into a screaming barrier of wind. He pushed the clouds of poison high up into space, but he couldn’t push them far enough. The hero crashed back to Earth, and the clouds stayed. They blocked the sun and the plants died. Then the animals died. Then the people died.”

Storyteller trailed off. I shivered, though it wasn’t all that cold.

“What happened to the last hero?” Fire asked.

Storyteller began to speak, but one of the other Sticks suddenly raised his hand all suddenly. I saw it too: a band of people coming out of the gloom. Leader ordered the Mothers and Fire behind us Sticks as we made a line. I saw Storyteller out of the corner of my eye, walking forward to stand in the line with us.

“You’re with us, now,” Leader said, grabbing his arm. “Stand with Fire and the Mothers.”

It was hard to tell in the gloom, but the band was larger than ours, and they had at least six Sticks. Leader hid the last packets of food under his shirt and walked past our line to meet them.

“I’m Leader,” he called out.

Another man, young and with a scar where his left eye should of been, came out.

“I’m Leader,” the other said. “You have any food?”

“No,” Leader said, shaking his head. “We got nothing.”

Their leader smiled.

“We’ll take your food and both your Mothers. Fight us and we’ll kill you.”

Everyone talked big, but nobody did nothing. It was stupid.

“You got medicine, do you?” Leader said. “You know how to heal a wound before it kills?”

Their Leader still smiled and I thought he might be crazy enough to fight.

“I don’t have any Sticks.” He said. “I have Knives.”

I squinted at the other group and my stomach did knots. At ends of the Knife’s sticks were metal knives, real knives from the old world. They could cut a person open easily. They made our sticks look silly.

“Found them a month ago,” their Leader said all casual. “Only met a couple bands since then. Haven’t had to kill anyone yet, but we will.”

Leader took the packets of Ke Tchip from his shirt and threw at the man’s feet.

“Be kind to them,” he said, gesturing the Mothers forward. “They’re both with Children.”

“No!” came a voice behind us. “This isn’t right.”

Storyteller was striding forward past us useless Sticks, past the Mothers. Leader grabbed him by the arm, but he shook him off.

“This isn’t right,” Storyteller said to their Leader, staring unflinchingly into that one eye. “You can’t just take things from those who are weaker than you. This isn’t the way the world is meant to be.”

Leader jumped in front of Storyteller and tried to push him back behind us Sticks, but the man wouldn’t budge.

“This is the way the world is,” Leader hissed at him. “Don’t make it worse.”

“Who is he?” their Leader said.

“Storyteller,” Leader said. “He’s with us.”

Their Leader got a good laugh at that.

“Storyteller? You give food to a Storyteller?” He suddenly looked all angry. “You waste food on a Storyteller?”

The Knifes moved to circle Storyteller and Leader. Leader backed away, but Storyteller stood his ground. Soon, he was surrounded by Knifes, their blades shining in the near-noon light.

In the old world, Storyteller must have been a Stick. He lunged, taking a Knife by surprise and pulling the blade out of his hand. He could have killed the man with his own knife, but he just threw it away. Two other Knifes stuck their weapons at him and one stabbed Storyteller in the arm, making him bleed, but he didn’t even flinch. He just pulled it out of his arm and cracked the man in the face with the stick end, knocking him down.

It wasn’t enough. Two more Knifes came at him from both sides, sticking Storyteller in the ribs, and pulling them out again before he could grab them. He went down, swinging the flat wooden end of his weapon while they stabbed him again and again with the sharp ends. He dropped to his hands and knees.

“Stop!” Leader yelled. “Please stop!”

“I’m doing this for your own good,” their Leader said, and it sounded like he meant it. “You keep feeding him and you’ll all starve. I can’t imagine why you’d take a Storyteller.”

“They understand the value of what I bring,” Storyteller said coughing blood.

“What value?” their Leader said. “Will you keep them from freezing? Find them food? Can you make children?”

“He brings hope!” I said. I hadn’t meant to say it. It just came out.

“We’re all dying!” their Leader said, turning to me. “When we can’t find any more food, the human race is gone. We have to make what’s left last as long as we can. You can’t just waste it on him!”

And all the Knifes stabbed Storyteller. Their knives went all the way in and came out red and went in again and again. I dropped my stick and just watched like a coward.

The sun broke through the grey clouds, as it did every noon for a bare second. The sharp, hot light showed everything clear and bright. Every tatter of Storyteller’s clothes, every drip of his blood, every twitch of his dying body was burned into my eyes. He collapsed into a pool of red.

And then Storyteller wasn’t there.

I can’t clearly say what came next. Everything happened at once. There was a wind that kicked up dust and debris in our eyes. The Knifes all fell back, holding plain sticks. I saw a pile of metal, glowing red like fire, melting into the ground. Then noon was over and the light was gone.

But Storyteller was back, walking at those that had tried to kill him like he was going to beat them down all by himself. And I figured he could. His face was smooth. His hair was black. He was young. He was perfect. He looked like he was carved out of metal. And the Sticks, confused at being Sticks all of a sudden, ran.

Storyteller went up to their Leader and he backed off, looking to his people to save him. He tripped and fell on his back and grabbed a piece of debris. I don’t know if he was going to throw it or try to hide under it, but Storyteller knocked it out of his hands. Then he pulled him to his feet.

“You’re going to have a hard time leading without your advantage,” Storyteller said. “You’ll have to negotiate, give up things; you’ll have to run sometimes. You’re going to want to give up being Leader, but I hope you don’t. Your band still needs you.”

He turned and walked back to us, picking the last sheet of Ke Tchip off the ground. He held them out to Leader.

“Keep it,” Leader said, his voice all shaky like he thought Storyteller was going to hurt him. “You’ve earned it.”

“You need them more,” Storyteller said, handing them over.

“Are you going to stay?” Leader said. “We could use a Hero.”

“I’m only a Hero for the two seconds a day when the sun is out.”

Leader shrugged. “We need a Storyteller even more.”

I had to agree. It looked like everyone else did, too.

“There’s a lot of people who need me,” Storyteller said. “You know, it’s funny; I used to think being a journalist was something I did between being a hero. Now that the hero part is all but gone, I realize how important it really was.”

Leader held his hand out and Hero shook it.

“Goodbye, Storyteller,” he said. “Hope we meet again.”

“Call me Clark,” the man said, and he walked off into the darkening gloom.

Things started getting easier after that. We kept finding big slabs of concrete all shoved over or broken, revealing treasures underneath. The biggest proof of things changing, was that the Children didn’t die when they were born. Sure, they were scrawny little things, but we kept them alive. We would have killed for them, but we didn’t have to. Other bands must have found the treasures, too. People were nicer. We started trading for the first time.

Once, a Stick from another band gave me an old watch for a bit of string. Only the second hand was left, but I was happy to get it. See, I had been thinking about what Storyteller had said about there being two seconds of sunlight every day, when everyone knew there was only one. So I timed it with the watch. Three seconds. That night, I went over to the Children where they were all snuggled together to sleep. This is what I told them:

“You may not notice it happen, I sure didn’t, but every day there’s a little more sunlight. One day, there will be just enough. Watch for it, because something amazing will happen.

“At noon, just after the sun comes through, you will see something fly up from the ground, but not fall back down. It will shoot up into the sky in a big streak of color. Then, just as the sky goes dark again, the streak will disappear into the clouds. Nothing will happen for a moment, but somewhere, out above the clouds, he’ll be absorbing light from the sun. Then you’ll want to hang on to something.

“The wind will blow harder then you’ve ever felt it blow before. You’ll have to cover your eyes from all the dust and rocks being thrown around. The air will whip past faster and faster and, just when you think the whole world is going to blow away, the clouds will start to move. They’ll churn and fight and cling to the Earth, but the wind won’t stop and they’ll be thrown out into space.”
I told them about how the sun will shine all day and all night. How strange green and brown debris will rise from the ground and spit food at them and how the world will be covered with a soft green carpet. I was only three when the world ended. I didn’t remember much, so I made some of it up. When I finished, the Children had gone asleep. As I tiptoed away, the Mothers each kissed me on the cheek and called me Storyteller.

It’s a good a name to have.

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