Thursday, February 17, 2005

Writing Exercise: Beginnings

This is a story I submitted to Black Gate Magazine in March of 2004. It wasn't published, but I got fantastic feedback from them. So I'm trying again and about 1/3 of the way done with a new story. Here is that story. Its copyright 2003 Josh Rosenbaum.


A thick mist wraps itself around every tree, every leaf. The band of druids, my cousins and relatives, two days from the village, head to the stream and rendezvous point. The helper monkeys seem more agitated than normal. The band is scattered because the monkeys keep dropping their bundles and running to the trees. My mother is one of the stragglers, my father in front leading the group. The sky darkens and begins to pour its contents in almost vertical streams. Our village is used to the rain, and some of the travelers raise banana leafs while others enjoy the water. But the older traders know they should move quickly because the monks aren’t used to rainforest.

My father reaches the river, its banks rising in the sudden downpour. It must be raining higher up in the narrow canyons that lead to the high peaks in the distance. The first part of the group reaches the rope bridge and they can see the colorful silks of the monks standing under the protection of tall green trees. Their smiles visible even through the rain and across the river.

I remember the day from seeing it in a vision and putting together events told to me by my teacher, years later. He was the only survivor that day. However part of me was there as well.

The helper monkeys refuse to go near the bridge. The youngsters who typically frolic on the banks are nowhere to be seen. They have climbed trees and chitter noisily, the whites of their eyes showing and their teeth bared.

Some of the monks begin to cross the bridge, but even they look wary. The druid traders know something is amiss and several of the bodyguards transform into their natural selves, my father being the first. Thick orange hair enveloping their bodies, muscles growing, arms lengthening. Many of the younger monks who have never been to a rendezvous contain the surprise. They have heard about the transformation but have never seen it.

Our traders begin bringing the baskets of salted fish, dried fruits, hemp and shells to the bridge, while the monks bring rolls of silks and carved tools and machined utensils. It is tradition that this time the druid traders cross the bridge to the monks. The guards start across, while the bearers are still attempting to get the helper monkeys near the river. My father waits for my mother.

He looks to her, nodding that she stay back. He knew, even then in those early days, even before the midwives could tell, that she was carrying me and knew that something was terribly wrong on that rendezvous day.


Formhault has just appeared over the eastern horizon. It hangs white blue in the harvest sky. I know that I only have a few more hours as it approaches its zenith. I can feel the other mind stirring. I seem to have attracted attention from those who share these walls. I must remember when I meditate that the voices can be heard by others too.


The monks begin to wave our group back. Now they sense it too. But it is too late. A chill turns the downpour to snow. Something the trader clan had never seen. The snow steams as it hits the tropical ground. The younger monkeys in the trees begin screaming. The guards on the bridge turn in time to see the mist condense right at the riverbank into a form 3 times as tall as the tallest druid. Its features blurred around the edges. Tendrils of cold steam drop off its body in waves. It appears translucent and almost non-corporeal except for two garnet eyes that survey all around.

Instead of hands it has a single long curved claw. Its head, hunched on its back turns slightly to the bridge and in one swipe cuts one of the ropes supporting the bridge. Several of the guards from my tribe are pitched into the silty river. Their think armor makes them sink quickly. The remaining guards run back across the bridge before the creature can strike again. They impale it with weapons that glow in the creature’s presence.

The shriek it emits stuns all the druids. Half the temple monks have crossed the bridge however and have entered the fray.

The druids regain their composure and attack, but the creature is ready for the enchanted weapons. Its claws can slice a monk or druid in half leaving only a surprised look on the victim’s face.

My father is killed in the first wave in one slice that kills 6 others as well. Three older monks begin chanting, two focusing their chi, their inner energy to the third. The oldest monk shouts at the demon, a bolt of chi charging from his body. It strikes the demon squarely in the back, causing it to screech again, deafening those nearby. Those two garnet eyes turn across the river, its legs lengthening and crouching. In one leap it clears the 50-foot wide river. It lands in front of the older monk, impaling the other two. In a frighteningly fast motion it slashes all but one remaining monk as well.

The older monk hits the creature in a fury of blows with his staff. The staff is a blur in the rain and snow. Even the creature seems stunned. The elder monk drives the demon back to the edge of the river. The creature catches the old man’s staff in its two hooks. One of its back feet grows a claw on its way to the old man’s chest. The monk cannot react in time and falls back as his chest is opened. The creature snaps the staff in half. There is only one monk left on that side of the river, a younger boy who bravely charges at the demon. The boy comes within 7 feet of the creature when a giant claw flows through his head. Immediately his face goes slack and he drops his staff, but he remains standing. It looks at the boy for a second and leaps again to the remaining monks and druids back on the other side of the river.

Four monks and 3 druids, including my mother are all that stand left to face the creature.

The druids and monks work together. The monks keep the monster’s massive arms and legs at bay while the druids attempt to subdue the creature with magic. Any attempt however seems to make the creature stronger. Soon only the 3 druids are left. My mother holds a pike at the ready with the other two druids, ready to make their last stand. The elder monk on the other side of the river rises from the ground and transforms the last of his life essence chi to a bolt of energy. The bolt leaves him and again strikes the creature in the back. It writhes in agony and becomes even more translucent. Its extremities blur even more. It charges the druids passing through all three and into the forest beyond. At that point I feel. I am aware although incredibly confused. That feeling lasts for only a second and then I am back to the oblivious that is the unborn. But as the demon passed through my mother, it left part of itself behind.

My mother is the only one who survived. She falls to the ground unconscious. The other two fell dead where the partially corporal claws pass through them.

Hours later, after dark and the carrion beasts begin their nightly cries, the younger monk is able to snap out of his trance. His head has a driving pain through it and when he reaches up he wipes a circle of frost from his forehead only to have it reappear almost instantly.

He searches both sides of the river for survivors but even the helper monkeys have scattered. The only person he finds alive is my mother. Unconscious but breathing the younger monk tends to her wounds and makes a gurney.

Before dawn he begins to drag her back to the monastery along with as much of the dried fish and fruit as he can carry. The trek is long. Past rice paddies, up switch backing trails, through tangled vines, over foothills, across snow banks and lonely alpine fields with yak inhabitants. From a lush green landscape that grows ever more quickly to grey, white and black, he walks. Past the first snowfields ever higher up the volcanic peaks until he is so high he can see the edge of the island and the faint line of water that was the river. At times he is so tired he nearly falls off the trail, plunging two thousand feet down. He doesn’t stop for food, drink or rest and covers the weeklong trek in a little over a day. My mother has a slight bluish cast to her that most travelers experience when the come to the monastery.

Chen Chi as I learn to call him later collapses at the front door. Other monks rush out to him and bring he and my mother inside. My mother is attended to. Chen re-tells the gruesome events. The monks perform their rituals to help those slain to their next bodies. Kama Leng the monastery master regrets that he will not be able to have his own son lead the monastery after it is his time.

My mother only briefly regains consciousness over the next 7 months. When she does its living fever dreams and she only looks around for a few minutes before lapsing back into unconsciousness. The monks become aware that she is carrying me, however and redouble their efforts to keep her well.

The monsoon season comes and many of the monks say they can hear a voice on the wind. The rumors trouble the normally quiet monastery. Add to that the food brought back by Chen Chi was nowhere near enough to feed the entire monastery and political groups began to form. Aln Chiang rose quickly to replace the master’s son as the number two monk, however many monks didn’t trust him.

More rumors persisted about a voice on the wind and now the “old men” of the mountainside are angry. Their lineage flows to the druids from the rainforests below.

Seven months later I am born and my mother slips into oblivion. She joins my father in the next life. The monks raise me as theirs. They are kind but they know something is amiss.

I would be brought before the master frequently because I couldn’t seem to learn the discipline as easily as the other children my age did. There was always the slightest of furrowed brows, which I learned to read as concern when the master would read my aura. The master would never reveal my I Ching to me as he would with others. Finally, however, in my early teens I began to master the turbulence in my soul. I was able to push it down and secret it away. When I was 25 I was able to keep the turbulence far from the surface. I worked at this so I could follow the path that was destined for me, or so I thought. Only recently have I made the connection to the turbulence and the rising of Formhault (that is what these people call that star. The monks had no name for it) above the horizon. If I had only known when I left the monastery of that connection it could have saved so much trouble and terrible suffering.

For 12 years before I left the monastery, the harvests had been poor and the old men of the mountain would raid our meager crops. Each attack was closer to the monastery itself and each raid became more vicious in nature.

On my 25th birthday the master and his assistants came from their room in which they had spent the last 15 days meditating. They called me to come to them immediately. I dropped my staff and ran to them.

I kneeled down in front of them and looked at the floor. I remember that day from yesterday not the 45 years ago that it was.

Kama Leng’s brow knitted ever so slightly as he began to speak. I needed to go out into the world. They would provide the means to get there and home once. I was not to return until I had reached the next level of peace and gained more control of the turbulence.

I was shocked. These walls were the only home I ever knew. I had not been outside them since I was born. I was given a weapon, a sling and a few meager possessions. But what I did have was Master Leng’s faith in my training and abilities.

If I had know how much the monastery would change, how master Kama Leng’s legacy would be corrupted by Aln Chiang I would not have wished to return. But in the guise of youth, stupidly I did return. After Kama Leng’s passing Aln took possession of the monastery. Aln was clever. He was the subtlest of all of us. His aspect changed the monastery and the monk hood in such a way that none of his brethren noticed until it was far too late. Only I saw the change, since I had been removed for ten years. The tributes that were now demanded from the villages lower down and the extortion of innocents to protect their villages from the old men of the mountains made me ill. This is not what Kama Leng wanted.

I made many enemies the three days I was “home”. At one point they attempted to kill me but what I am protected me, as it is sometimes wont to do. I was banished again to this land, far from the island of my conception. If I can keep the turbulence at bay or even master it I shall return. First, however, I need to discover what the turbulence is and what it means. Then I shall be ready.


Formhault is almost at its zenith. It reaches apex on this night in the fall. The night I have the most trouble keeping the turbulence at bay. I already feel the transformation beginning and the windows to this inn have frosted over. I should have spent tonight in solitude but I feel strong enough that even though I will transform I will be in control. We will see how many bodies the morning brings.


Post a Comment

<< Home