Okay, so, here’s the thing. I can’t finish my story. I want to, but I’m not sure how to. I don’t know how to wrap it all up. I’m not sure what the characters are supposed to do anymore. I think I just need to go back and rewrite some of the beginning so that I can add more conflict, more purpose. Right now it’s a little linear, a little railroaded. I would absolutely love some feedback on this piece. I’m going to post what I have now, take a little break, then come back and finish the day’s writing total and edit this post, so check back if I haven’t gotten to it by that point. Still about 900ish words short.
Okay, scrizatch that last bit. I have fully edited the post to include all of today’s writing. I continued the story from a few days ago (day 14, I believe). It’s not as funny, but I still think you’ll get a few giggles. Enjoy.
Writing Challenge Day 17: Afterlife (Working Title)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2037
Yarik grumbled again but said nothing. He drained his tea in one final swallow and stood without ceremony. Tollan made a show of placing his own cup on a saucer and dabbing the corners of his mouth with a napkin but likewise said nothing further. He followed Yarik to the base of the house of cards and raised his hands in front of him, flexing his fingers in anticipation.
“Well,” Yarik said, wheeling the stepladder around. “it’s your call. Where are we going to build today.”
“I think,” Tollan said, placing a hand on the ladder’s rail and stopping Yarik in his tracks, “that today we will simply work on the base of the tower, if you don’t mind.”
“Mind?” asked Yarik, genuinely surprised for the first time since Reinhardt had arrived. “That’s a first. You usually want to build higher.”
“Yes, but today is a day for building foundations, don’t you think.”
“If you say so.”
“Oh,” Tollan said as if suddenly aware Reinhardt was still seated at the other end of the room, “won’t you join us, please? I think you’ll find this most interesting.”
Reinhardt placed his cup on the lacquered wooden tabletop and began to rose, but froze at a disapproving look from Tollan. He lifted his cup and placed it carefully on a saucer before he continued. Tollan smiled warmly.
“Tell me,” Tollan said as Reinhardt drew near, “what do you see?” He gestured at the gargantuan tower of cards. Reinhardt maintained his distance, not even daring to breathe too hard so close.
“Um, I see a house of cards,” he said blankly.
“Oh, well done,” sneered Yarik.
“Hush,” chirped Tollan with a wave of his hand. “I mean, what about it do you notice? Anything in particular.”
“It’s very…” he began, faltering when he saw the look on Yarik’s face. “…big.” Yarik rolled his eyes but said nothing.
“Yes, good,” Tollan said patiently. “What else?”
Reinhardt looked at the tower, willing himself to see whatever it was Tollan wanted him to see. It was actually quite plain when you got up close to it. Remarkably plain, in fact. So he remarked on it.
“Well, they aren’t real cards,” he said, and then continued quickly before either of the brother’s could interject. “I mean, not playing cards. They’re blank.”
“Blank! Yes!” said Tollan with excitement.
“But not empty,” finished Yarik.
“No, not empty. What else?”
“Well, it looks like there’s only two kinds of cards,” Reinhardt said. “White ones and black ones.”
“Correct, and can you spot the final detail?”
“Um…” Reinhardt strained his brain trying to figure it out. “No,” he said finally.
“Hah!” barked Yarik.
“Perhaps this will help,” Tollan said, ignoring his brother’s laughter. “Shall we?”
“Yes, I suppose we shall.”
The old men both reached into the sleeves of their robes and pulled out a pack of cards not unlike the ones common to most army camp’s Reinhardt had been in. They were old, well worn boxes with scuffs along the corners but otherwise in good repair. Tollan reached in his box and pulled out a single card. It was pure white. Yarik did the same, but the card he produced was black as ink. Then the brothers, with extreme care but admirable precision, placed the cards on the table, each one leaning on the other. They pulled their hands away and the cards stayed standing, each supported by and supporting the other.
“There,” Tollan said jovially. “Does that help?” And it did, Reinhardt realized. Every black card he could see was paired with a white one, and each white with a black. It dawned on him that the entire tower had been built not by one single brother, or by both at different times, but by both of them simultaneously. The metaphor was not lost on him and he said as much.
“Oh, so you understand it now, do you?” asked Yarik nastily. “Got it all figured out, have you?”
“I think so,” Reinhardt said.
“Pray tell,” Yarik gave a theatrical bow in the old soldier’s direction.
“You’re saying there can be no light without the dark, and vice versa. But it doesn’t work.”
“What doesn’t?” asked Tollan politely.
“I assure you it does,” said Yarik.
“Well, yes, but if it does then it works too well.”
“How so?” asked Tollan, still patient as ever.
“Because you’re gods!” Reinhardt shouted. “You may not have made the world but you shaped it. Just like you built this house of cards. You chose to balance light and dark, good and evil, but you didn’t have to. The mere fact that you did so is appalling.”
“Oh, I love this part,” said Yarik.
“Come now, Yarik…” Tollan began.
“No,” Reinhardt interrupted. “No, it’s fine. Let him speak. At least he’s honest about what he is. It’s in his nature to be rude and spiteful.” Yarik looked like he was going to take offense at this remark, but realized there was no point in fighting the truth. “But you…”
“Me?” asked Tollan
“Yes, you. You let him. You go along with this charade willingly, cheerfully, and you let innocent people suffer. He may be happy that creatures like Theramin G’uul follow him, but you shouldn’t be. You could have built a shining, alabaster tower all by yourself, but you let him spread his darkness.”
“But, my dear boy,” Tollan said with just a hint of pity in his voice “then I would have run out of cards twice as fast.” The silence that followed the rebuttal was absolute. The loudest sound in the room was the sound of Yarik smiling.
“What?” Reinhardt gasped.
“I could have built my own tower, yes, but it would never have reached so high or stood for so long.”
“But…” Reinhardt said.
“And I could just has easily have built my own as well,” reasoned Yarik, “but no matter how wide I built the cover of darkness it would always lack depth.”
“I don’t understand.” Reinhardt said in a weak voice.
“Let me put it like this,” Yarik said in what was almost a kindly tone of voice “you’re a soldier, yes? Who would you rather fight: a fellow follower of the light, or scum like G’uul? Opposition, that’s the key. Two forces, equal in strength but opposite in direction will cancel each other out. And what does that yield?” Reinhardt said nothing.
“Stability,” answered Tollan. “If everyone leaned the same way, then everyone would fall over together.”
(end of first story, beginning of second, which is a continuation of day 14)
The crowd broke up a little bit at that point. Paul was one of the first to move, swinging his legs down from the chair in front of him and making quick strides toward the refreshments table so I had to hurry to catch up. He poured himself a cup of coffee with one hand at the same time as he worked the top off of a plastic creamer pack with his teeth and the other. He dumped the creamer into the coffee as he was still pouring it. It was an impressive display of multitasking. I helped myself to a few Oreos, eschewing caffeine so late in the evening.
“So, what are you in for?” Paul asked convivially as he finished pouring. He took an experimental sip and flinched back, clucking his tongue a few times to ward off the burning sensation. “Perfect.” he said and moved back towards his seat before the main body of the crowd had made it halfway to the table.
“Um, I—I mean, I don’t—I haven’t…” I stammered.
“Ah, don’t worry about it. No rush. Most people don’t talk much about themselves their first time, so you’ll fit right in.”
“Thanks,” I said, relieved. I nibbled on the edge of a cookie as the crowd of people streamed past me. “What did you mean about what you said earlier? About your parole officer. I mean…” I said, realizing how rude it might appear to ask that kind of question just after refusing to answer the one posed to me. “…if it’s not too personal.”
“Nah, it’s cool,” Paul said after another tenuous sip of coffee. “Besides, It’s almost up anyway. Got a few more months and I’m square. Then I won’t have to come to this place anymore.”
“So, you didn’t choose to come here?” I asked through a mouthful of cookie.
“Are you kidding,” Paul scoffed. “God no. Give me some credit.”
“Like I said, parole. I used my powers for nefarious purposes. Shrink said it was a coping mechanism, so now I have to come here once a week to learn to cope in less damaging ways.”
“How could you use the ability to tell the contents of someone’s left hand pocket in ‘nefarious ways’?”
“Your social security number is…” Paul began.
“Hey!” I snapped, earning a few startled looks from those around us. “You wanna keep that shit to yourself?” Paul grinned.
“Sorry, but you did ask,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many men carry their social security card around in their wallet, and how many men carry their wallets in their left hand pants pocket. Ergo, there must be a significant number of men who carry their social security card around in their left hand pants pocket. Ipso facto, custodeous ipsos custode, verily, etc, etc… Add onto that the fact that credit cards are also quite common and, hey, I’d be crazy not to help myself, right?”
“Um, I guess I can see your point.”
“Started out as a pick pocket, but it’s damn hard to steal something in a guy’s front pocket. Got my first criminal charges when I was fourteen years old. Moved on to identity theft by about the time most people my age were starting college. Maybe if I’d actually gone to college I never would have been caught.”
“Paper trail?” I asked.
“Yeah, a digital one. Fucking NSA tracking my fucking cookies.” He gave me an almost aggressive glare as I bit down into my last Oreo, but had trouble keeping a straight face. “So, yeah, now I’m here.”
“So, what do you do for a living now?” I asked. “And please don’t say stage magician.”
“I’d never reveal the secrets of my fellow psychics,” he said in a hurt voice. “Nah, I work an overnight stock crew at one of the local department stores. This is the one night a week I have free. Lucky me, eh?”
“So, you wanna tell me your life story now, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?”
“Well,” I said. “I seem to do quite fine for long stretches and then suddenly I forget who I was talking to.” I looked over at Paul in puzzlement. “And who are you, madam?”
“Cute,” he said.
“No, but really. It’s spontaneous combustion.” Paul flinched.
“Yeah, about that,” he looked around cautiously, dropping his voice low. “Don’t joke about that too loudly in this crowd.”
“Oh,” I said, clasping a hand over my mouth. “Sorry, I didn’t know.”
“No, it’s fine, it’s just that some people might take offense. I’d hate for someone to get mad and explode over a little joke.” He winked at me and sat up straight again. “No, but seriously, come on. What’s your deal? I’ve heard ’em all. I really have. Benny over there can walk through doors without opening them, but only if the doors are unlocked. Can’t even manage it if the door’s all that heavy. Sharon over there has 3 second precognition. Shame her reaction time is so slow. Angela can taste the color yellow. Gabe has the ability to attract any women he could ever want.”
“Let me guess,” I said, “gay?”
“No. Eunuch. Sad, really. Still, he never has to pay for drinks at the bar. I think he has a pen pal from Portugal. Things were getting pretty serious last time I heard. Clarence you’ve met, sort of. Tim and Tom, those twins over there, can tell sodas apart by sight. Tim got Coke and Pepsi, Tom got Mr Pibb and Dr Pepper.”
“It’s Pibb Xtra now.”
“Fuck that. Where I come from you call someone Mr. It’s just respectful.”
“Unless they’re a doctor.”