So I have begun a project I intend to finish (for real). And I’m very excited about it, the ideas are flowing, I’m having fun imagining the world I’m writing… I have confidence that I will hopefully at least have a few chapters finished before the end of the summer. My goal is 50 pages by August 31st, a small goal, I know, but for the past few years I haven’t been able to finish anything but short stories, the longest being 10 pages.
This is the first chapter. I’d love for some constructive criticism, or any comments. On the other hand, I’ll also understand if people find it too long and don’t want to read it…(*sob*) Thank you to anyone who stops by, and I wish everyone out there the best of luck in starting and finishing their own project.
Working Title: From Ashes
Chapter One: Staying Together
The city killed their light. It was an hour after sunset, and the sky no longer held the multicoloured pallet of a dying day. Perhaps it would have scared Gwen; these strange shadows and blackness of once familiar streets, but she only smiled. The night was crisp and cool, for it had rained early. The city smelled fresh. As Gwen gripped her mother’s palm, trying to match her small gait to her mother’s longer one, she would trip every so often. Her mother would squeeze her hand and bring her slightly closer to her body.
They were not alone. The two of them followed the rest of their family, whom followed their neighbours, whom followed the steady stream of inhabitants making their way to the heart of the city. Parliament’s tower was clearly visible above the heads of the ongoing crowd. It was the only building still lit, and it became a beacon. Everyone flocked. It was what they did, year after year, since the inauguration of the Ten generations ago.
But of course, Gwen didn’t know all the details. She was just happy to finally have her own candle. It meant she was old enough, ten years old and finally trustworthy.
They followed her father, his one arm draped across his son’s shoulder. The other was mostly gone, save for a nub at the shoulder that Gwen liked to feel with her fingertips every evening their father fell asleep on the couch. She would make sure to draw lightly, her skin barely making contact with the scars. It was the texture that amazed her. She would trace the boundary between scar and skin, admiring the subtle change. Now the nub was hidden by the thick cloth of his black cloak. The sleeve ruffled with the movement of his body, swishing and twisting. Gwen watched it move as they followed the crowd.
It was beginning to be difficult not to speak. Gwen was told she could only whisper, but she knew that her small voice would never carry to her mother’s ears. The wind and the low murmur of the crowd discouraged her. So she focused on trying to match her steps to her mothers. Soon, they all joined the expanding crowd in the city’s centre. There were hundreds of black, grey and dark coloured shapes with flashes of small light. The small dots of yellow helped give detail to the crowd. Gwen noticed a child she recognized, a brunette with pigtails, being pulled further inside. She watched until she could no longer pick out her friend’s coat from the rest. A spike of unease shot through her heart and she looked up at her mother.
“Momma?” She whispered, and tugged her arm down. Her mother slowed a bit and turned her gaze on Gwen. Soft brown curls framed a pale face peeking out from a dark hood. “Do we have to go in there?” Gwen pointed at the black mass. Her mother smiled and gestured towards her father with a tilt of her head. He was beginning to lead them sideways, skimming the outskirts of the collected mass.
“Don’t worry sweet pea.” Her mother smiled, and Gwen’s heart was freed. She smiled back and waved her candle.
“When can I light the candle, momma?”
“When your father lights his.” She replied softly, and then returned her attention to the back of her father’s coat. Gwen noticed how her eyes seemed to narrow slightly. But then her family suddenly stopped moving, and she bumped into her brother. He pushed at her shoulder.
“Hey, watch it squirt!” He automatically shouted. His father lightly smacked him on the head. His voice had attracted the attention of those around, and they glared at the boy. Gwen smirked and stuck out her tongue. Mumbling an apology to his father, Owen held up his candle. Already their father’s face was illuminated by the light of his neighbour, and he passed this spark to his son. As her mother bent to light Gwen’s candle, she finally asked why.
“We light the candles to say thank you.” Her mother explained in her velvety voice. A toothy Gwen grinned and connected her candle’s wick to her mothers. It was the first year she was allowed to hold one on her own. The square was so dark tonight, she was secretly still afraid, despite being with her family. No one really talked. There were whispers, and they moulded with the soft wind. To the front of the crowd, and attached parliament was a large tarp. The reel was to be projected onto the surface exactly at 10 o’clock. Gwen was tired, but it was easy to keep her eyes open. She was so excited.
“Why do we say thank you?”She asked, her gaze fixated on the bright yellow light of the flame. She held it close to her body, a gloved hand curled around it to protect the fire from the wind. Her brother, on the other hand, held his loosely as he crossed his arms. The flame was dangerously low and his face a permanent scowl. He had already been to three Memorial rituals and he was bored.
“It’s stupid,” He grumbled under his breath. “I want to go home.” Their mother glanced up to meet her husband’s eyes. They exchanged a fleeting look before he quickly looked away, his body tensing. Gwen heard her mother sigh before resuming a soft smile for Gwen.
“We say thank you to the people who keep us safe.”She finally replied. Gwen nodded and turned to stare up into the tall figure that was her father. She wrapped her arms around his legs, still mindful of the candle; she held it away from the embrace.
“Thank you daddy!” She felt his legs moved and released her hold so the man could lower himself to her level. He gave her his candle.
“One day,” his hard eyes softened for her. “We will all need to protect each other. Stay with your brother Gwen, promise me you two will keep each other safe.”
“Yes daddy.” She nodded stoutly, and then giggled as he tousled her hair. Her father rose and pulled her brother into his side for a hug. He whispered something into Charlie’s ear, which made her brother press himself against their father’s chest.
“I promise dad,” she heard him whisper. Gwen was happy. She didn’t like it when they fought. Then, without further warning, he swept his wife into his arms, kissed her passionately, and disappeared into the crowd.
“Momma, where’s he going?” Gwen made to follow, but her brother grabbed her arm and pulled her back. She was encircled by arms, and warmth, and tears. Her mother was beginning to shed tears. She whispered words to them: Stay with each other. Go to Aunt Lucil’s. Mommy loves you… I’m so sorry. Then with a final look, she ran after her husband.
Gwen started to run as well, but two firm hands held her back.
“Gwen, stop!” her brother whispered frantically. “We need to go.”
“But, momma and dad went…in there,” she stared at the shifting black and speckled yellow crowd, trying to find her mother. Tears began to obscure her vision as she tried to tug away from her brother but he held fast. The candles burned brightly in her hand, the wax dripped on her skin and she yelped, dropping both. It didn’t matter though. What circled in her mind was the need to find them, but she was confused. Gwen had never seen her mother like that before. That final look was almost surreal and it scared her. Bright, flashing green eyes that were so large and so unlike her mother’s kind gaze had borne into her.
“Owen,” she finally stopped struggling and turned to face her relieved brother. The hood had fallen back, revealing his shaggy mop. Although now they no longer had their light, she could still make out his faint facial expressions. “Did you see mom’s eyes?”
“What?” he replied, perplexed. He raised an eyebrow. “Why would that matter? Listen, Gwen, dad whispered to me that we had to go away. We need to be quiet though, we need to hide and go to Aunt-”
An explosion blew dark smoke and covered most of the crowd. The silence was finally broken by screams. Gwen whipped around to watch as the tarp and the metal scaffolding which held it cracked and crashed to the ground, the material ripping and blowing violently in the wind. She saw it all with green eyes in her mind, the image of her mother turning to run after her father who had been swallowed by the people.
“Gwen!” She faintly heard Owen scream her name and she let him grab hold of her upper arm. She let her legs quicken and match the gait of her sprinting brother as he weaved them around the frantic stream of people. Everyone rushed to fill the night with noise. A woman screeched for her son, another cried, holding a bloody hand to his head as he ran by. Over it all a powerful voice boomed from the Parliament tower, urging control.
“Stay together…” But it sounded so much like her father; she remembered her promise and re-focused on her brother, snatching his hand firmly. Finally they broke from the main streets and lost themselves to the safety of the alleyways. Their footsteps pounded the ground as they ran.