30 comments

Friendship Fantasy Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

A helping hand has long reach.

Mai kicked dirt at a spider, then picked up the branch it scuttled on. She threw it into a pile of sticks and leaves. The orange-coloured arachnid scurried off into the rainforest—the grass, trees, and plants all foreign to Mai. All different shades of blue.

She was planets away from her home.

She kneeled to the ground and pulled out a couple of glowing, violet mushrooms. Their luminescence faded in her hands as they detached from the soil. Mai gathered her pile, then walked over to a dead campfire. She took a seat and began up to set up the branches in a pyramid structure.

Cynthia sat across from her. A woman from a different solar system—another brought to the rainforest against her will. She refused to make eye contact with Mai. She instead scratched her arms, sweater pulled up past her elbows, nails digging into her skin. Blood seeped out from self-inflicted scrapes.

“Do you need something?” Cynthia asked.

“Watch this.”

Mai set the leaves and mushrooms around the pyramid, then picked up two rocks. Cynthia looked over. Sweat had drenched her forehead, strands of hair stuck against her face. Her hands trembled as she tried to stop scratching.

“I’m not looking to talk-”

Mai hit the stones over the campfire. They cracked against each other, chips of rock coming undone. A spark flew off and caught onto the kindling. Leaves burned, curling up, a fire lighting the night—warmth in the cool air.

“Alright,” Cynthia said. “Cool trick. You can go back to whatever you were doing before.” She recoiled as her nails punctured the skin below her wrist. Mai winced, then inched closer.

“I had to find the right rocks for it,” she said, “you need flint-”

“I don’t care.” Cynthia brought up the hem of her sweater to wipe her nose. “I don’t want to talk with you. I have a headache, I’m tired, and I want to go home. I’m…hell, Mai. Take the hint and leave.”

No.

“Neither of us had a choice in being here, but it doesn’t mean we can’t try to make something out of it. ”

“That’s easy for you to say, huh? You’re not the one…” Cynthia trailed off. She watched the fire, branches crackling, flames flickering. “You can’t…I can’t go through withdrawals like this. This is cruel. I need small doses to ease into it, right? Others like me don’t survive this.”

Mai inched a bit closer. She unhooked a canteen from her belt and handed it to Cynthia, who resigned to her, exhaled, and drank. Water spilt down the bite marks on her lips.

“You don’t get it,” Cynthia said. Her knuckles strained as she dug her fingers into the canteen. “I need something, Mai. Some people can quit abruptly, but I’m not one of them. I can’t be on this world. I need medication, or at least a stable environment-”

“I’m right beside you. Tell me, is it cold where you’re from?”

“It...drops to negative forty in Canada's winters. Why?”

“Where I’m from,” Mai pushed the sticks around in the fire, “it’s winter all the time. It gets so cold in the later seasons that we have to run coal generators twenty-four-seven or everything freezes. Water, houses, people. The soil in our greenhouses sometimes freezes-”

“People,” Cynthia mumbled. “How could you say that casually?”

“It’s common on my world. It’s really cold. Let me tell you a story.” 

Mai inched closer—close enough to inhale the lingering smell of nicotine on Cynthia’s clothing, and close enough to see the needle marks on her arms. She ignored both and smiled.

There is comfort in company.

“It’s called 'The First Storm'. My people are not proud of this one. I think because of that, it needs to be told.” Mai cleared her throat, then began.

Leaders must conquer their darkness before they can become beacons of light. 

Frostwood, a colony of hundreds, did not have a leader to look up to. While men worked hours in the coal mines, and women weaved the warmest clothing they could, Frostwood’s leader did nothing to help. Barrett Vanne spent his time smoking and drinking, enjoying the benefits of his bloodline.

One night, scouts returned on dog-sleds, fingers frozen in their gloves. They brought word of an incoming storm. Of howling winds that sounded like screams, and a blanket of fog so thick it looked like a creeping wall of ice. Even from a great distance away, they could feel the cold slowing their blood.

“Eerie,” Cynthia said.

Mai nodded.

Nothing spreads quite like fear. Whispers and rumours overtook the colony as the storm closed in. Livestock could sense it, cowering in their shelters. Coal miners received orders to work extended shifts, up to sixteen hours. Hunters geared up for the cold and set out.

Yet, frostbite took limbs. Doctors amputated what they could, and engineers worked overtime to build prosthetics. All looked to Barrett, their leader, for guidance. 

“And they found nothing,” Mai said, pushing sticks around the fire. 

Protests soon broke out in the streets. Everyone was used to working in the cold, but the temperatures had dropped to unbearable levels. People gathered in crowds, telling of how their children had fallen ill because of cold homes. 

They demanded for something to be done.

Barrett sent peacekeeping forces to disperse the rioters.

The storm arrived days later. Generators creaked and groaned under the weight of the wind. Pale faces turned toward rattling windows; trembling lips uttering words of prayer. The brutal cold rendered hunting impossible. Soil in the greenhouses froze solid.

The stockpile of coal could not keep all homes warm.

Families in cold homes huddled together, then froze in their beds. Children hid under piles of clothing, skin a faint blue, strands of hair turned to ice. Patients overcrowded the clinics—sleeping on the biting floors. The population would not last without coal.

Barrett forced his people out to the mines-

“My god, Mai,” Cynthia said. “What kind of story is this?”

“It gets…better. This part needs to be said, though! If we don’t learn from our past, repetition will haunt us. Barrett sent a hundred workers into the mines.” 

Mai raised her hands, then lowered two fingers.

“Only eight of them returned by nightfall. To this day, we’re still finding frozen statues in the depths of our quarries.”

They retrieved the coal needed, and a quarter of Frostwood’s population survived the great storm. However, Barrett, tormented by guilt, drank himself to death. He left his son in charge. Edwin. The public hated him.

The eighth month came, the second coldest of a nine-month cycle. Frostwood’s people formed a union, yet no one could agree with one another. Sawmills wanted more coal than kitchens. Miners demanded the same pay as doctors. Engineers asked for less work hours.

In the end, they all looked for a leader.

Edwin Vanne stepped forward. He allowed his wisdom to be tempered by the flames of the past. The man understood to be blind to doubt—even for a second—is to dance with death, and he would not be like his father.

“Mai,” Cynthia said. “You memorized this?”

“In my language. I’m translating as I go along, so it might lose meaning. Let me know if anything confuses you.”

Cynthia prompted her to continue.

Edwin laid out a plan. He didn’t have the people’s trust, but he had their attention. He told them: ‘Our fire of hope may flicker—but I will not allow it to be extinguished. We’ll work through whatever adversity nature brings for the sake of our colony.’

Frostwood worked as they mourned their dead. Edwin built a plaque for the lost coal miners. He moved frozen bodies from a snow pit to a proper burial ground, working himself from dawn until dusk, earning the trust of his people.

He made tough decisions, having children work as apprentices for doctors and engineers. Extra rations went to the ill, supporting those who’d gone through radical treatment. A neighbourhood watch walked from door to door and made sure families kept warm.

“He stockpiled food,” Mai continued, “then shut greenhouses off and redirected the warmth to homes. Edwin Vanne led Frostwood’s remaining people through the coldest month of the year without a single death. He stepped up when hope was lost and is known as the greatest leader of my people.”

Cynthia exhaled. Her nails brushed over her arms but didn’t scratch. The campfire crackled between the two—charred mushrooms burning slow. Alien crickets hummed in the rainforest, distorted and wavering.

“I’m not going to be the next Edwin Vanne,” Cynthia said, “but I’ll take from your words. I’ll weather this storm a bit longer. I…thank you for the distraction, Mai. I didn’t mean to be so rude to you.”

Mai yawned, stretching her arms back.

“My people have a saying,” she said. “It’s that fortune and misfortune are like twisted rope. So they come in turns. You’ll be okay.” Mai put a hand on her shoulder. “If at any time you feel sick, know that I’m right by your side. 

“We’ll weather this storm together, alright?”

Cynthia smiled, and it was all Mai wanted to see.

November 17, 2021 18:28

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

30 comments

Jon Casper
23:21 Nov 17, 2021

Hi Alex! True to form, there are some great descriptions in this piece, e.g.: // Their luminescence faded in her hands... // ... howling winds that sounded of screams // ... they could feel the cold slowing their blood. As for how well you connected with the prompt ... like Tommie, I felt it was unclear who was doing the yearning. I did not get the sense that Mai was doing much yearning, so I assume it was Cynthia's yearning due to drug withdrawal. That being said, if Cynthia is the central figure you might consider getting us into her he...

Reply

Alex Sultan
22:30 Nov 18, 2021

Thank you, Jon. This is great feedback. My take on the prompt is as you said - Cynthia yearning for her drug, but she's not on Earth and therefore can't get it. You bring up a lot of good points for clarity here. I'm leaning toward more dialogue to clear most of it up. As for sensory details, I 100% agree. I'm going to draft out more lines for it. Thank you again, your comment is well appreciated.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Tommie Michele
22:02 Nov 17, 2021

First readthrough: I really loved this story—the first line is totally your style, and I really liked Mai’s character. I think I’ve read the other two with her, but this story works well as a stand-alone, too. As for how well you conveyed the prompt, I guess it depends on whose longing/which thing being longed for that you want to focus on (sorry, that wording was really confusing—I can’t think of a better way to phrase it off the top of my head). The way it’s coming across to me right now is that Cynthia and her longing for her old life...

Reply

Tommie Michele
04:53 Nov 18, 2021

Ah, also, I just posted a story for this week. If you end up doing a readthrough, I left a comment at the end explaining my reservations (and desperate need for polishing). I would love to hear your feedback, if you get the time! I know it's a bit late in the week.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Alex Sultan
22:36 Nov 18, 2021

Thank you for the kind words. I do own 'Save the Cat!' but have yet to read it over. I'll have to get around to checking it out. The idea for the prompt was Cynthia yearning for heroin, but can't get it since she's on a different world. I've drafted ways to clear it up, and I'll definitely enter this one once I edit it over.

Reply

Tommie Michele
01:01 Nov 19, 2021

Oh, ‘Save the Cat!’ might be my favorite writing guide I’ve read so far—save Ted Dekker’s course that I can’t seem to stop talking about :) I definitely recommend ‘Save the Cat!’ Okay, in that case, your relevance to the prompt comes through loud and clear. The only thing that made me do a double take was the expectation of Mai’s yearning, since she’s your POV character, but I’m sure you can fix that easily. I can’t wait to read your final version!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Alex Sultan
18:30 Nov 17, 2021

This is my third story with Mai's character(Archery Tournament and Azure Rainforest being the other two) and I always enjoy writing about her. I tried to make this as much as a standalone as possible, but I am worried about the clarity and if I conveyed the prompt well enough. All feedback would be appreciated. Thanks for reading :)

Reply

Show 0 replies

Hey Alex, I wrote a new story!

Reply

Alex Sultan
23:48 Nov 27, 2021

Nice - when I get the time this week, I'll take a look and leave my feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Graham Kinross
00:32 Nov 23, 2021

Great work Alex, there are some beautiful little phrases in here which were really solidly written.

Reply

Alex Sultan
21:06 Nov 25, 2021

Thank you! I'm happy with how this story came out, and I really like some of the phrases in it. Thank you for reading.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

One more thing that keeps jumping out at me, and was not in my first comment, is the line "She kneeled to the ground . . . " Every time I read this line, I pause. It's a bit rocky to read, and I think it's because of the back-to-back d+t. Kneele[d t]o. Perhaps you could exchange kneeled for knelt? I know that it's still a hard consonant, but I think the two T's sound better, knel[t t]o.

Reply

Show 0 replies

Hi Alex! Great story, I just have a few suggestions: "They demanded something to be done." I would have written "They demanded that something be done." "They demanded for something to be done." or "They demanded something be done." "He allowed for his wisdom to be tempered by the flames of the past." Maybe drop "for"? or "He made allowance for his wisdom to be tempered by the flames of the past." I really enjoyed this. I thought there might not be any more about Mai and Cynthia together, I'm very happy that there is! I think that...

Reply

Alex Sultan
23:39 Nov 20, 2021

Thank you for the kind words - I still have a lot more to write about with Cynthia and Mai, their story is very far from finished. I've edited in both of your suggestions, and I agree they make the story read easier. Thanks again for taking the time to read over and leave your notes. It is very helpful. I hope to read something new from you soon!

Reply

Yeah, I hope so too! I feel kind of sad that I didn't finish my story for last week. Godwilling, I'll complete one this week!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Keya Jadav
19:58 Nov 20, 2021

Yepp...another one that left my jaw dropped. It was impressive how Mai reminisced the events stirring a mix of emotions in Cynthia, nevertheless making her smile at the end. The descriptions are eye-catching and I loved the flow of the story throughout. My favourite lines: #“It’s that fortune and misfortune are like twisted rope. So they come in turns. # Their luminescence faded in her hands It's always fun to read your stories and intriguing how you come up with so good ideas each time. Just as perfect as always!

Reply

Alex Sultan
22:22 Nov 20, 2021

Thank you! I'm glad you liked the fortune/misfortune line. It's a Korean proverb that I really thought would fit well with Mai's character, and I think it's my favourite line in the story. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Dorsa S.
21:01 Nov 18, 2021

hey alex! lovely story you have here, the imagery is marvelous and the descriptions are fantastic. one of my favourite set of lines has got to be, "A foreigner sat across from her. A woman from a different solar system—another brought to the rainforest against her will." i feel as though this is a perfect set to the story and what is about to come ahead. i have a few notes for this story as i read it for a second time. here's what i have: i could sense your idea for the prompt and how it relates to it. if you meant it to be about cynthia ...

Reply

Alex Sultan
22:49 Nov 18, 2021

Thank you, Dorsa. It's nice of you to take the time to read this over and leave notes. It is very much appreciated. I'm going to consider all your suggestions when I edit - I agree with you on it, a bit more dialogue could clear things up and add more character. Thanks again for the kind words. I'm looking forward to trading more feedback in the future.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
19:21 Nov 18, 2021

hi Alex, I hope you are ok? I don't really have time to write at the moment, too much going on, but I will try to crit for you when I can. Here are a few notes on this story: Mai kicked dirt at a spider, then picked up a branch beneath it. She threw it to a pile of sticks and leaves. The orange-coloured arachnid scurried off into the rainforest—the grass, trees, and plants all foreign to Mai. The orange colour and the branch beneath don't quite work for me. I'd suggest a minor rewrite of this, maybe: Mai kicked dirt at (an orange spide...

Reply

Alex Sultan
22:19 Nov 18, 2021

Thank you, Katharine. I'm doing good. I hope you are well too! I'm looking forward to your next story, whenever it comes out 😁 You've given me feedback on the other two stories with Mai's character, so I'm really glad you read this one through. I'm going to take all your notes into consideration when I edit. The idea of the prompt was Cynthia yearning for heroin, but it's lost to her since she is on another planet. I'm going to try and make it more apparent with the next draft. Thanks again.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Annalisa D.
03:33 Nov 18, 2021

This was a great story! I've enjoyed all the Mai stories. They have excellent world building and great characters. Nice use of colors as well. I love the nature and how it looks. To address your comment/concerns: I think this addresses the prompt well in a couple of different ways. Some surface level like the addiction is a clear yearning for something she's trying to lose. I think also in a deeper way of needing something she never had with the encouragement and belief she can overcome. Also the looking back on a time in history. I think ...

Reply

Alex Sultan
22:24 Nov 18, 2021

Thank you for reading! I'm so glad you've read all three and enjoyed this one - there are some details in the others that I feel make this one better(Mai's ears, for example. And that she works as a hunter. I couldn't find a way to incorporate them in this story) My take on the prompt was addiction and Cynthia yearning for drugs. It's nice of you to look deep into it - I didn't notice what you pointed out myself, and the encouragement/belief really makes sense! Good catch. Thanks again - I'm looking forward to reading your new story when I ...

Reply

Annalisa D.
01:34 Nov 19, 2021

Do you think they'll all come together into a long story? It's a fun world and lots of interesting things involved. I read a book that was all short stories but all kind of the same too because it did continue the lives of some characters in some ways. That's a possibility too. Getting more short stories with this is always fun.

Reply

Alex Sultan
19:05 Nov 19, 2021

Yes! Someday. I have a full book planned out for these two(and two more characters alongside them) I have so much planned for them, this story doesn't scratch the surface of it. However, I'm not too confident yet in novel writing - there is so much structure to study. It'll be a while before I get around to it.

Reply

Annalisa D.
19:31 Nov 19, 2021

That's really great! I'm sure you'll do well with it when you feel ready. Having those characters in these prompts probably helps to explore them and get a good sense of who they are, which will help with keeping consistency through a longer piece.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Michael Regan
20:52 Nov 17, 2021

You did a great job of introducing the characters and the situation without having read the other stories. I really enjoyed the story.

Reply

Alex Sultan
22:44 Nov 18, 2021

Thank you, Michael. I'm glad you enjoyed it and took the time to comment. I was worried about the clarity while writing this, and your feedback is appreciated.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Howard Seeley
04:49 Nov 27, 2021

Great effort. Keep up the good work!

Reply

Show 0 replies