So, weeks ago, Terrible Mind’s Chuck Wendig had this fantastic flash fiction prompt in which the participants were to pick two sub-genres (technically to be picked by a randomizer but bah! rules) and have up to 2k words-worth of fun with them. I picked “dystopian” and “cozy.” Because, how hard could that be, right?
I mean, I love dystopian stories and cozies (and not-so-cozy) mysteries. I read them all the time. I should be able to write that, right?
On the plus side, D has been giggling for three weeks straight. I’m so glad I can give the character in my head sufficient amusement while his books are in the editing and almost-released-but-not-yet stage.
Adding to my “how hard could this be?” madness, I decided the dystopian of choice would be my Heresy of Before world. That’s when it went from fun to holy cow, now I better make this good because the Heresy of Before is going to be something someday and I don’t want to litter it with, you know, crap.
Eventually, I got over myself, and cranked out a rough draft – of the first part, at least. I’m still working on the second part.
It took a while to get over myself.
While I’m not fully back in blog mode (I’ve really been loving summer vacation – I’m tan, and not in a blushing-lobster kind of way. It’s very exciting), I figured I would share what I have – one, to get feedback, and two, to give myself the impetus to finish the bloody thing. So, without further ado (and please forgive the formatting, or lack thereof, I’m doing this on my phone!), part one of Spirit Keeper, a Heresy of Before mystery.
Our village was a tiny blot, a splash of color on an otherwise muddied map – that is, if we had any maps. Papa Henry, the oldest in the village, said his parents had kept maps, but even if he knew where those maps had disappeared to, he no longer remembered how to read them. Even if he could find them, was there a reason to? The landmarks and lines those relics depicted no longer existed. They marked the boundaries of the world Before. Now, our boundaries were marked by sand and death.
Our village was a tiny blot, but it was a secret blot, a refuge from the wider world.
The concerns of Big City rarely reached us here except when its wild-eyed and starved refugees managed to make it past the wasteland. Those who outran the dreadnaughts and whose lungs survived the poison pumped into the air were welcome to our haven. So long as they left the concerns of Big City behind, that is.
Most did. Only one man – a man who had been born to lands beyond our village – kept Big City in his heart and soul, always. Of course, it was from him we learned to weed out those who would cause us grief. Samuel, though he lived with us for years, remained a mystery to many. He was rumored to be a prophet, a lost king, a savior – if anyone believed in such things anymore.
Whether or not he was any of these things mattered little; Samuel and his beautiful wife, Caroline had gone from us more than a year ago. They had gone back to Big City, and possibly beyond, to rescue the child who had been torn from them.
They had no map for the fight that was to come, and I envied them their determination. Their spirit. Though we lacked maps, we had never acted without thought, without great deliberation.
In our tiny village – a place our forebears named Protection – we had what Samuel called Town Hall Meetings. We called them the Debate. Once a month we gathered in the village center. All five hundred of us, from infant to elder, met at the well as the sun first kissed the sky, and talked – harangued – jawed – to resolve our differences.
If whatever was crawling up the spine of a villager wasn’t settled by the time the mountains swallowed the sun, then it would just have to be settled at the next Debate. And the rule was, there could be no hard feelings, no retribution, in-between times, either. It was my job to make sure that participants adhered to the rules – played nice, as Samuel would say.
I am no elder like Papa Henry, nor am I a refugee, or a prophet like Samuel. I was born to the world outside, born with lungs that knew clean air, and limbs that relished freedom. My name is Ellie, and I am what amounts to the law in our village.
It had come out at the last Debate that there were things missing. None of the disappearing items were anything serious – nothing ever deemed of use, anyway – but things nonetheless. They were Before things. Even out here, there is a sort of mythology around these forlorn bits of flotsam left over from Before, which has sprung up in the wake of the banning of its memory.
Outside Big City, we were free to remember Before, but not many did. These precious keepsakes, passed down from one generation to the next, are all that we have left.
We don’t talk about them, but they are cherished. We have no gods, nor idols. We do not worship bits of code and glittering gadgets like the technocrats in Big City, but neither do we pray to the Old Grey Ones for deliverance, as those who grub for their livelihood in the City’s hellish streets. Yet, for all our supposed godlessness, our Elders do sometimes speak of the spirit of all, which lingers in each heart.
These keepsakes are reminders – repositories even – for the sacred memory of the spirit of all, and someone has been stealing them.
D: That’s it?
A: What? I told you it was only Part 1.
D: But . . . but that’s barely even an intro! A, how could you leave me hanging like this?
A: To whet your interest?
D: Bah! I bet you don’t even know who did it.
A: I do too know. I mapped it out before I started writing. I even made sure it was logical.
D: Aren’t you the one who gets lost crossing the street? That renders your map metaphor as laughable. Tell me, do you know how you’re going to get there from here?
A: Well . . . .
D: Good lord.
A: Hey, I managed to muddle through your time travel with at least half my brain intact – and a semblance of continuity. I should be able to navigate a dystopian mystery.
A: Exactly. Thus – segments.
D: And when will Part 2 debut?
A: Next week.
D: Fair enough. I shall have to wait with bated breath until then.
A: (Eye roll). Gee, thanks, D. And thank you all for reading and for your feedback – have a lovely day!