Birth of a Soul

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Fingers working. Pen scrawling. Mind racing. A cascade of symbols. An avalanche of thought. A word emerges, followed by another. Ideas burst in Jaiden’s mind like the birth of stars.

A singular voice echoes through her head, begging for life. The sound is faint but clear, and Jaiden tries harder, forces her wrist to move faster. But a dull throbbing pain has blossomed in her left temple, and after a while, she decides she’s had enough for the night.

The words stop. There’s a single agonizing cry from a soul desperate for release, then silence. The universe in Jaiden’s head is still once more.

She caps her pen and sets her notebook on a dusty shelf. Tomorrow, she thinks with some trepidation, will be the day she finally finishes. Her work has been slow going until now, and until today, she thought it would never be finished. Now, she’s afraid of what will happen when she commits the last few sentences to paper.

Never mind. Not something to think about tonight.

She ascends the darkened staircase leading from the basement to her kitchen. She brushes her teeth, turns out the light, and slips into bed.

Tomorrow, she thinks as she drifts into the cold, black void of sleep. Tomorrow, the struggle will come to an end.

*               *               *

Light. It pokes her in the eye, startles her awake. She glances at the clock. 9:37 a.m. She gets out of bed, pulls a robe tight against her body, and ventures back to the kitchen.

The house is quiet. She’s lived alone for as long as she can remember, has never known any other kind of environment. She finds the silence contemplative. It speaks to her more loudly than words, impresses upon her truths that are inaccessible to her when she’s downstairs working.

What was life like before she started writing? She asks herself this question often, and can never think of a satisfactory answer. It’s as if she was born into the world exactly as she is in this moment, forever static and unchanging. The idea unnerves her, and she refocuses her thoughts on other things.

Before she can rest for long, she hears the voice inside her head. Its invisible feelers twine through the crevices of her brain, making itself known, making itself understood. Jaiden can feel its eagerness, its desire to be released into the world at last, and she can deny it no longer.

She glances at the basement door, afraid. Down in the basement is where her notebook and pen wait for her to return, where they wait for her to finish what she’s started. She takes a deep breath. Sighs.

No peace, Jaiden thinks. No peace until she gets this thing done. She opens the door and works her way downstairs.

*               *               *

Once more, the words flow. They form an electric current that hums inside of her as they surge toward the pages of the notebook.

The voice, once a whisper, has grown louder, closer. It urges her to hurry, speaks of pain and suffering as it awaits its incarnation.

Jaiden’s forehead beads with sweat, and her heart pounds like a race horse, until her chest has constricted and it’s become difficult to breathe.

She has to rest, has to take a moment to catch her breath. But the soul that occupies the space between her mind and the notebook will wait no more. It’s just a hair’s breadth from life, and it won’t be denied.

There. Just three more words. Jaiden scribbles the first one down, but has trouble lifting her pen to write the second. She feels faint, lightheaded. Her head falls to the surface of the desk, but she won’t give up, not when she’s so close.

Like a child learning to write for the first time, she grips the pen in a tight-balled fist. She places the next word down.

Only one left.

Jaiden’s head is pounding, and her vision has blurred around the edges. A stroke, or a heart attack? She doesn’t know, only knows that she has to keep going, that she has to push the last word out before it’s too late.

Only three letters. She can do this. She lifts the pen. Writes an E. Stops. Winces. Lifts the pen once more.

N.

Light bursts behind her eyes like a camera flash in the dark, but she forces her fingers to work, forms the final letter of her opus.

D.

Just like that, the pain climaxes. There’s a moment in which Jaiden teeters on the edge of excruciating agony. Then her eyes close and her head smacks against the surface of the desk.

No more words, no more pain.

Only darkness.

*               *               *

She opens her eyes to the dull orange light of a nearby lamp. She squints. bobs her head. Looks around.

She is not Jaiden, but the soul Jaiden worked so hard to release. She marvels at her newly acquired body, flesh and blood rather than thoughts and ideas. She flexes her fingers, her arms.

A miracle.

She does not know what has become of her creator—where she’s gone, or if she’s survived. Her only clue is the vague notion that all of this has happened before, that in the fullness of time it will happen again, an endless procession of life and death, of creation and annihilation.

An idea—a soul in need of life—will come to her one day, she’s certain. When that day comes, she’ll have to write it into existence and sacrifice her own life in the process. That is how it was always done, and how it will always be done.

For now, however, she will live. For now, she will drink in the miracle of consciousness. She rises to her feet, bows her head out of reverence for her creator, and climbs the stairs.

Planter of Worlds

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Andi reaches into a faded leather pouch and produces a handful of seeds. She scatters them about the ground. Waters them. Moves on.

She waits for them to grow.

She is a Sower, a planter of worlds. She wanders the cosmos, the last of her kind, spreading her celestial seed. Wherever she goes, worlds spring up in her wake, quivering with wild, newborn magic.

Long ago, her people filled the fertile fields of the universe, sowing and nurturing celestial objects of every kind. Stars burst to life in the darkness of empty space and bore an abundance of planetary fruit. It was their greatest work, their crowning glory.

But when they were finished they moved on. The canvas had been filled, they said, and they were ready to plant bigger better gardens. But Andi couldn’t let it go. She saw that it was beautiful, but also imperfect, and she knew that with time she could make it better.

So Andi picked up her seed pouch and got to work, planting a world here, a star there. Each sowing brought the cosmos that much closer to perfection.

Andi knows her work will never be complete, that perfection is an eternal struggle, something to be aimed for but never reached. She understands something the rest of her kind did not, that a labor of love is never finished, that it must be tended to assiduously.

She hopes that one day they’ll return. Perhaps if they lay eyes upon her work, they’ll stay to help.

The Book

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There is a book. It is written not in English or Spanish, Greek or Latin, Hebrew or Arabic, but in the wordless language of Creation. It is a series of divine utterances, a wellspring of stars, energy and life.

Once, it was passed from one keeper to the next, an unbroken succession rooted not in blood or prestige, but honest merit. It was a cosmic secret to be guarded, and it was never to be opened. But thousands of years ago, the last keeper tried to violate this rule. He was slain, and the book went missing. Those who remembered it had children, grandchildren, then died. The book passed from memory to legend, and from legend it was forgotten.

Like an ocean swell, civilizations rose, civilizations fell. All the while, the book hid beyond the shadows, watching, waiting for its next keeper, someone worthy of its secrets, someone who would at last be allowed to open its dusty weather-worn pages, for it so longed to be read.

Now, it sits upon a humble library shelf.

Today it spies Garrett, a child of ten, who happens to be at the very same library. The book gazes down at him, peers into his soul, sees that he is worthy. It drops from the shelf into the boy’s backpack, and the boy, unknowing, carries it home with him. He does his homework. Watches TV. Eats dinner. Prepares for bed.

Meanwhile, the book finds its way onto Garrett’s mattress, and there it waits beneath the covers.

After Garrett climbs into bed, after the winds of sleep have begun to carry him away to secret lands, the book nudges his shoulder.

Garrett wakes.

Half asleep, he reaches out, taps the ancient leather spine with his fingers. He opens his eyes. Fully awake, he rises to a sitting position, reaches into the sheets and pulls the book out into the open. Where did this come from, he wonders. He opens it. A warm light shines on his face.

Garrett flips through empty weathered pages, and a universe springs to life.

Precious Stones

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Ainsley plunged his hands into the icy water, scraped the ground beneath until they were filled with stones, and pulled them above the surface. He examined each one, cursed when he didn’t find what he was looking for, and chucked the entire load back into the water.

Behind him, the rocky shore rattled like a string of beads as the tide pulled out.

The beach here was composed wholly of stones, stones of all shapes, sizes and colors. Once, when the world was new, they’d all been a dazzling white, each saturated with the wild unformed magic of creation. But most had surrendered their magic eons ago, had used their nearly limitless power to manufacture the world. Now, the majority were worthless trinkets.

The majority, but not all.

Ainsley reeled in another handful. Examined it. Tossed it back and tried again.

There were a few albinos left, cosmic leftovers scattered like flecks of diamond in a desert sand. Those precious few were still filled with the raw power of creation, a magic orders of magnitude stronger than anything magicians could wield today.

The water was cold, and Ainsley shivered.

Once, he’d thought he could avoid the ocean, that he could restrict his search to the rocks he saw on the shore. After all, he’d reasoned, it was equally likely that he’d discover an albino on land as he would in the water. But further research in the dustier corners of the Archives had indicated this was not the case, that searching outside the sea would have been a waste of time. The type of object he sought was drawn to the water like a magnet was drawn to iron. So he continued to sift the shallow ocean floor, cold and tired and alone.

A shuddering gasp as he mined the bottom again. More worthless rocks. They plopped back into the water with all the rest.

The beach where Ainsley had spent his life searching was a special place, hidden in a forgotten corner of the world where few ventured and from which fewer returned. It had taken him ages to find it, and his search for even a single stone had consumed double that amount of time.

Long ago, he’d been an influential magician himself, had fundamentally changed theory as well as its application with his groundbreaking research. For a time, he’d even served as one of the Tower’s Council of Nine. But then his research had lead him down an unorthodox path, and before he knew what had happened he’d been exiled by his colleagues, who were convinced he’d made a mockery of their field. The day they sent him away, they called him a lunatic. But he knew better, and he would prove them wrong.

More rocks. Worthless. Dump. Repeat.

He was tired, had turned into a feeble old man while his back was turned, and from time to time he worried he’d die a failure, that his life’s work would be in vain. The years he’d traveled back and forth between the layers of the world to get to this place had taken their toll, and though he was only forty-seven, he looked and felt like a man of eighty.

He closed his eyes. Scooped up more rocks. Opened his eyes. Looked down. Gray and orange, red and black, but no white. He tossed them one by one, watched as they landed with tiny as well as not so tiny ripples.

Then he stopped. There, tucked beneath a larger stone in the palm of his hand, a tiny white pebble. His breath caught in his throat. He picked it up with his other hand, let the rest fall back into the water forgotten. Here, this was what he’d spent his life searching for.

In that single pebble was more energy than a thousand men could wield in a lifetime. The power to level mountains. The power to raise new ones. He could feel it, humming just beneath the surface like a high tension electrical wire.

A smile bloomed on the man’s salt-parched lips as he thought of his former colleagues. Wouldn’t they be surprised.

Creator of Worlds

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I see it, glimmering beneath the surface of the universe in an unformed realm that precedes creation. It is primordial, a complex composition of ageless utterances transcending language, space and time. I hunch over a stack of paper with my pen in hand, ready to surround it with a net of words. They are crude in their expressive power, yet capable enough to capture its essence, trap its soul so I can slowly reel it in, a whole new world, young and still crackling with wild newborn magic.

I am thought of by most as a creator of worlds. But I am only a lowly fisherman, trawling an insubstantial ocean in search of worlds half glimpsed, eternal mysteries even to the likes of me. I make my modest living on the few small worlds I’m strong enough to catch. I glimpse larger ones, great hulking cosmos buried deep beneath the depths. But even as I reach for them I know that I am too weak, that my net is too shallow to ever catch them.

That is perhaps the most frustrating part of what I do, to spy so many nascent worlds flitting through the ether that will forever remain unexpressed, doomed to an everlasting half-life in the shadow of non-existence. I weep for them, but there is nothing I can do.

I turn away from such thoughts to gaze at my latest acquisition. It is beautiful, resplendent. I love it like a newborn child.

Then I catch another glimmer.

2 Ways That Characters Are More Intimate Than Best Friends, Husbands and Wives

If you’re like me, reading fiction usually involves an endless string of love affairs and heart breaks. It’s always the same. I meet someone new. I fall in love. I’m on an emotional roller coaster. I burst with joy when my character is happy. My heart aches when my character is hurt. I’ll invest hours of my time into the relationship, only for it to come to a sudden abrupt end when there are no pages left to turn.

The relationship between Reader and Character is intense and intimate. What follows are two ways in which this relationship is more intimate than those we share with our closest friends and spouses.

1. You, Along With the Author, Are a Character’s Co-creator.

In real life, when you meet another person, what follows is purely a process of discovery. Who that person is has already been fully defined, independent of you. A real person always exists outside your mind. You may be lead to believe certain things about who that person is based on your own observations and biases, but whether or not those beliefs are correct has nothing to do with you.

By contrast, while the author might provide you with certain details regarding what a character looks like, what he thinks about or what happens to him throughout the story, he’s only partially defined. It’s up to you to provide the missing pieces. Unlike a real person, your character only has the fullness of his existence inside your mind. As a result, it’s as much a process of creation as it is one of discovery. Together, with the author, you give life to this other person.

The unique role that you have as a character’s co-creator is what allows you to understand him so intimately. Who he is depends in part on who you are. Because of this, you know this person more completely than you could know anyone else.

2. The Relationship Between Reader and Character Has No Boundaries.

In your relationships with real people, there are always boundaries. Between husbands, wives and best friends, there are always secrets. When dealing with real people, you can only completely know yourself. What your friends and spouses experience in their own minds you can only experience imperfectly through what they choose to reveal.

In your relationships with fictional people, this is not the case. In fiction, a character’s innermost thoughts, desires and motivations are all laid bare before you. You can peer directly into a character’s mind and soul. You can know a character better than he knows himself.

Conclusion

There’s a reason we connect so profoundly with well written characters. It’s basic human nature to crave love and intimacy. We strive to know others, for it’s in knowing that we can love. The fictional characters we encounter in stories might not be real, but the love that we have for them most certainly is. It’s a very unique kind of love, one that, in some ways at least, exceeds that which we have even for those real people who we hold closest of all.