Things Used to be One Way, but Now They are Another

Submitted into Contest #155 in response to: Write about a character who is pathologically ambivalent, until something shakes them up.... view prompt

21 comments

Fantasy Coming of Age Drama

The room seemed to be spinning.Β 


Jayger squeezed his eyes closed, then opened them again, struggling to focus his sleep-blurred vision. This was not the room he had been sleeping in.Β 


Sitting up, the 19-year-old brushed his blond hair out of his eyes and tried to figure out where he was. There were no windows. In the dim light of a hanging lantern, he saw pieces of leather, bits of metal, and bolts of thick cloth scattered around the room, overflowing from boxes, spilling off of tables, and piled on the floor.


His eyes landed on a single familiar object: his leather drawstring sack.


Jayger got up from the pile of cloth he had been sleeping on, took a few careful steps across the cluttered floor, and picked it up. The broken cross-body strap had been mended.Β 


The creak of a door opening and a shaft of light made him look up. When he saw who had opened it, the memories of the previous night rushed over him.Β 


β€œOh, good, you are awake,” the girl said, picking up a large, gore-stained wooden bucket. β€œFeeding time.”


She tossed the bucket at Jayger, and he caught it reflexively. β€œMerith—”


β€œNot now, Jayger. We have work to do.” She picked up a bucket of her own and left the room.Β 


Grumbling, Jayger unhooked the lantern from its ceiling chain and followed her.


β€œWhy did you not keep this room organized?” he demanded, blowing out the lantern and hanging it on a wall hook as the girl pulled the door shut. β€œThat room is a mess!”


β€œI have not had time to keep your system going. You can fix it after we finish with this.” She looked up at Jayger trying to shake his long hair out of his eyes. β€œAnd after we cut your hair.”


Jayger stopped for a moment, eyes playing over his familiar surroundings.Β 


Out here, in the main part of the warehouse, the metal roof soared. Close under the eaves, wooden shutters were slid aside to let air and light through the barred openings serving as windows.


Merith had already set her bucket down beside a metal feed bin. He moved to join her.Β 


Heaving the heavy top open, she asked, β€œDo you remember how to do this?” 


β€œOf course I do!” Jayger dropped his bucket on the floor, reached into the bin, and pulled out slabs of slightly-bloody meat. He worked quickly, hoping to fill both buckets before Merith got impatient. Then he remembered that Merith was not the one who got impatient with him.Β 


Once the buckets were full, they hefted them and set off for their first stop at the front of the warehouse. The enclosure at the front contained a faserdu Jayger had never seen before. It growled as they approached, saliva dripping from its maw.Β 


β€œBe careful with this one,” Merith said, light and shadow playing over her pink-dyed hair. β€œHe snaps when food is involved.”


β€œGood to know.” Jayger tossed meat pieces through the horizontal metal bars. The faserdu’s jaw guard chains jangled as it fed, picking up the food with its front teeth, and flicking it to the back of its throat to be swallowed.Β 


As they made the rounds, Merith pointed out new animals to Jayger, and told him about any negative behaviors to be trained out. He half-listened, at the same time going over his rationale in his head, waiting for an opportunity to voice it.Β 


Merith would listen to him. She had to.Β 


Finished with the feeding, they plunged their hands into a bucket of water and wiped them dry on a cloth. Jayger marveled at the lack of blood stains; the man he had been working for seemed unable, or did not bother, to keep things as clean as Merith did.Β 


Merith picked up the bucket of dirty water, carried it outside, and emptied it on the stone street. Coming back in, the 21-year-old closed the door and set the bucket upside-down on the floor. β€œCome sit down and I’ll cut your hair.”


Jayger seated himself. Merith disappeared into the room he had slept in, and came back with a pair of scissors. As she combed through his hair with her fingers, he went over his argument one last time and said, β€œMerith, I need to talk to you.”


β€œAbout what?”


β€œYour illegal activities.”


She snipped at his hair and quietly replied, β€œThey are not just mine. You used to help. And Mother and Father taught us.”


β€œAnd look what happened to them! The same thing could happen to you! I left so it would not happen to me!”


Strands of Jayger’s bright blond hair littered the floor around them. β€œYou lack fear, and you need it. If you continue aiding the insurgents and escaped slaves, someone will notice. Someone will turn you in.”


β€œJayger, have you forgotten that our parents were slaves? If nobody had helped them, where would we be?”


β€œWherever we would have been, we are here right now, and we need to keep our heads down, unless you want to disappear like they did!”


Merith paused and took a deep breath, then continued cutting her brother’s hair. In her mind’s eye, she saw her mother cutting Jayger's hair when he was younger, and life seemed simple. β€œThey wanted us to keep helping people. If they had thought the risk outweighed the good, they would not have taught us what to do.”


β€œWe do not have to do what they did! They may not have understood the danger, but we do. Most people look out for themselves. We need to do the same.”


Merith stopped cutting Jayger’s hair and walked around in front of him. Laying the scissors down on top of a feed bin and turning to him she said, β€œJayger, you never used to say these things. Who changed your mind?” 


He looked down at his hands, clenched in his lap. β€œI changed it myself. I got older, and I saw the way the world is. You are still living in the fantasy you were taught.”


β€œWhat fantasy is that?”


β€œThat one small deed can change things.” Jayger spat out the words bitterly.


Merith looked at her brother with compassion, and gently said, "I do small deeds with great love. Love does change things. Mother and Father taught us that."


β€œNo!" Jayger retorted. "Things, bad things, will keep happening, regardless of what small deeds you do. Other peoples' problems are not worth endangering your own life.”


Merith pressed her lips together lightly. With her brow slightly furrowed, she said, β€œI believe small deeds do something. Most people do not feel the need to get involved unless something directly affects them. The system we are raised in produces an apathetic and uncompassionate people. But I choose to love, however insignificant that seems.”


Jayger stood up and glared at his older sister. β€œYou are wrong. It has nothing to do with love. Nobody cares about love. Look at the slave markets. Look at the faserdus trained to fight to the death. Look at the captured insurgents! Giving them or the escaped slaves any aid will seal the same fate for you! If you do not stop,” he said, and steeled himself, β€œI will report you.”


His threat was out.


She stood in stony silence, but inside, turmoil raged. Her little brother was only bluffingβ€”or was he? They were both gripped by grief and fear, but did he really believe that what their parents had done, and what others had done for their parents, was useless? Did he really see the world as a place where only the selfish survived, when at the same time he seemed concerned for her welfare? If he ran off again and she was caught, authorities would have no way to link him to her illegal acts, so self-preservation seemed an unlikely motive. Did he really care about her? Or would he really betray her?


A pounding on the wooden door leading to the back street made both of them jump.


Merith felt truly worried. Perhaps Jayger had already turned her in, and had been stalling, waiting for her captors to come.Β 


Jayger wondered frantically if someone had already reported Merith. If the authorities had come to take her, escape would be impossible.Β 


Merith walked to the door with a measured, deliberate step, and opened it a crack. Jayger, his heart clenched with dread, hastily followed Merith, and peered around her.Β 


A young girl looked up at Merith, wide-eyed, her straight black hair stuck to her face with sweat. β€œPlease,” she gasped in Sibbolese, β€œhelp me.” Her limbs shook.Β 


Jayger saw the metal collar around her neck, and realized she was a slave, probably from Kesh. Slaves did not ask for help. Unless . . .


β€œThey said you would hide me!” The girl was looking at Merith, ignoring Jayger, or else she had not yet seen him.Β Β Β Β Β 


β€œThis place—” Merith glanced fearfully at Jayger, then back at the girl. β€œNot here. Run!” The girl looked terrified.


Jayger pulled the door all the way open. Now he could hear crisp commands being shouted, and heavy bootfalls approaching.Β 


The girl's sheer terror flooded Jayger with a wave of compassion that swept away any ambivalence.


β€œWe will.”


He reached out and pulled the girl inside.


Merith deftly closed the door and barred it.Β 


He still remembered the hideout. Would he ever forget?Β 


With Merith and the girl close on his heels, he picked up a metal bar and hurried to the floor grate in the midst of the faserdu enclosures. Prying, he lifted it free. Merith dropped a knotted rope ladder in, the end secured to a bar wider than the hole.Β 


Jayger clambered down, the girl following him. He boosted her into a large alcove, hidden from above by the overhang. β€œYou have to be quiet,” he said, and she nodded.Β 


Back up on the warehouse floor, the brother and sister jammed the grate back into place and hid the ladder in a mess of other dirty ropes. Already someone was beating on the door as if to knock it down.


This time, Jayger opened the door. β€œWhat do you want?” he barked. Momentarily the men outside drew back, surprised by Jayger's ferocity.


One of the soldiers angrily struck Jayger for his insolence, and the rest quickly pushed past him through the door.


After a fruitless ransacking of the building, the soldiers left to search the rest of the street's habitations.


Once the door was closed, Merith threw her arms around Jayger. He stiffened for a moment, but then responded in kind, and rested his chin on her pink hair.


"Thank you," she mumbled into his chest.

His heart full, he hugged her closer.

July 23, 2022 03:53

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21 comments

22:19 Aug 15, 2022

I like the two different POVs the siblings present. They have the same roots, but different life experiences led them to different conclusions. Particularly, I like Jayger threatening to turn his sister in. At first, this seemed like a bizarre thing to do. He seemed concerned with her well-being and this would be against it, and if she was captured she might turn on him too, so he could be endangering himself. So I wondered, why would he do this? I suspect he feels a kind of jealousy towards her. She's out there risking her life to make a ...

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Hello, MichaeΕ‚. Thank you so much for reading, and for your generous comment! It made my day the first time I read it, and it still makes me very happy when I re-read it. You didn’t just skim the story, but considered it carefully, and took the time to tell me what you thought about it. Again, thank you! Near the opening, when it says 'the memories of the previous night rushed over him,' I had hoped to convey that Jayger had been away for some time, but had come back within the last 24 hours. I tried to write the way I feel when I wake up ...

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15:59 Sep 11, 2022

I'm glad the feedback was of use :) All's well here, thanks. I hope all's well with you too.

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Alex Sultan
21:20 Aug 09, 2022

Hey friend - I hope you're well. I enjoyed reading this story of yours. I liked how you built tension, and I thought the fantasy element with the 'faserdu' was well implemented. It's a good first attempt at a drama story! I also liked the last line a lot - it was my favourite part. Just a small note of feedback, I'd reccomend not stating the ages of characters outright. Instead of just telling us Jayger(great name btw) is 19, find unique ways to hint at his age. There will always be creative ways to show it. Really good examples/explantion ...

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Hi Alex. Thank you for the feedback, and the link! I'm glad you enjoyed this. I very much enjoyed writing the sibling relationship and conflict, and I'm very happy with how it turned out, especially the last line. I did struggle with how to include Jayger's and Merith's ages, as I felt it made a difference to the story, but read awkwardly. After reading the article you shared, I have some ideas on how to show ages next time. As far as indicating ages in this piece, I think doing it with internal thought would have been difficult. Because...

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Wow! I think this one is a new favorite. The different perspectives of Jayger and Merith were really interesting and such an odd combination. It shows a great tug between they siblings. The plot just unfolded on its own and I liked that you didn’t give us all the information at once, showing and not telling. Awesome job!!

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It sure sounds like you had fun :)

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Graham Kinross
04:46 Jul 27, 2022

This is good, a lot of tension by the end. Seems like there’s a lot of story still to tell so you should keep it going, show us more of this world. I can imagine the story following either of them or even the slave they helped escape. I want to know more. I also want to know what the animals they’re keeping are.

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Hi Graham. Thank you for taking the time to comment! I'm glad you enjoyed this. As I said to Jeannette, the story is set in a fantasy world I've been working on for a few years, in which someone else is the protagonist. I might write more about this world for Reedsy, if the prompts fit. I have a lot of different characters whose stories I could develop, scattered across the lands. I only used complete words, no conjunctions, when writing this story. I thought it fit the place they live in, and the way their parents spoke to them. I thou...

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Graham Kinross
01:01 Jul 30, 2022

You could have someone from a different region mispronounce the name of the dinosaur and someone else correct them? Big dinosaur fan? My friend is like that. Have you seen the book Dinotopia? It’s a childrens fantasy book but the illustrations are really cool. I think your spelling faserdu will only be made easier if you change that first a to a u. Fuserdo. Maybe different places people say it differently? Dialects? Accents?

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Yes, I am a dinosaur fan. I find them fascinating. I have seen the Dinotopia books at my library, and enjoyed them. About the pronunciation, someone saying a word wrong and being corrected is a great idea! I could definitely utilize that in a future story. And thank you for the spelling suggestion. Fuserdo. I like it. There are indeed different languages and dialects in this world. A people from a completely different place use the word frask for dinosaur, and another people just refer to them as beasts.

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Graham Kinross
21:19 Jul 30, 2022

You’ve been working on it for a long time? How long?

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About four years, I think. I started writing the first code, which I'm hoping to develop into a language, in 2018.

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14:43 Jul 25, 2022

I like the situation you've put them in and the intensity is there. I don't understand the significance of her cutting his hair. It seemed out of place. How did they become the people who saved others and fed the beasts? What's their significance? An interesting story :)

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my story, Jeannette! I had Merith cut Jayger's hair because I wanted them to sit still together, and his hair needed to be cut. As his older sister, Merith wants to take care of him. This story is set in a fantasy world I made up, and have been working on for 3–4 years. In the novel I hope to write, Merith and Jayger were only side characters. I've seen these two characters in my imagination for a while, and they had interacted with my protagonist a few times, but I didn't even know t...

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23:32 Jul 26, 2022

Yes it does, thank you! I like it's part of a larger universe. Best of luck getting it completed :)

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Pippin Took
22:27 Jul 24, 2022

This story was very simple (please don't take offense, I mean it in a good way, like it's not spitting out philosophies with every other sentence, instead it shows you, not tells), yet it spoke volumes about basic human nature. You can tell Jayger just wanted the best for Merith, but when it came down to it he chose to be the bigger person, despite the risks. I feel as though that itself is what bravery is about.

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Thank you so much, your comment made my day! I'm not at all offended at your saying it's simple. I wanted the story to be brief, a bit tense, but meaningful. I've wanted to work on my show-don't-tell, and it makes me happy you said I did it well. I'm so glad Jayger came across the way I wanted him to. Bravery is not the absence of fear, it's acting even though you're scared.

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Pippin Took
14:41 Jul 25, 2022

Of course, any time! As I like to say, "There cannot be bravery without fear."

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