Update on Floating to the Ground

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Some of you have only read my personal pieces and don’t know my fictional writing, which was how I named my blog (even though I knew it would feature other genres at times). And some of you are fans of my short story, “Floating to the Ground.” Well, I’ve been working on expanding it into a longer story. I’m far from done, and I decided I won’t post all of my new additions here because someday after I finish it, I’d like to publish it. Maybe there will be a Kickstarter campaign in my future?? (I have a friend who successfully funded his book this way.)

What I’ve added is some preliminary information about the setting, Ethereal, and I labeled this section, “Prelude,” which was originally smaller and located after this. I also took some pre-existing descriptions of Ethereal from other parts of the short story and added them into this new addition. For the expanded version, I’ve re-labeled all of the subsequent sections, but you won’t see that here.  If you’ve never read “Floating to the Ground” in its entirety as a short story, it’s archived on this blog previously revised and updated; just look for the tags that match this post. Enjoy!

Prelude to Floating to the Ground     

Ethereal, a floating city, is a re-creation of an ancient place once known as Eden. Instead of simply existing as a garden, it is surrounded by and interspersed with urban dwellings, business centers, and government buildings. Everything here considered flora was planted because Ethereal is really a livable, hovering craft of sorts, enough to fairly comfortably hold about one-and-a-half million people. The city itself is open air; it kind of reminds me of a giant convertible. There are vines growing on trees, and the trees are everywhere, even inside some of our buildings. It feels tropical, but not excessively hot like a jungle. Gardens of a variety of sizes and small forests were intentionally planted throughout Ethereal, and there is an abundance of lush trees that touch as they line the streets on every avenue. There is a variety of plant-life suitable for the mild climate, some flowering and some only covered with leaves. It seems like nearly every building has life growing on it; there are roof-top gardens and cascading vines descending from balconies. A few people live in what used to be considered traditional homes, detached buildings, sometimes custom-designed, that are situated around parks, giving what land-dwellers consider a more out-in-the-country existence. Many people, however, live in slate or grey-colored high and mid-rise buildings. Each building has its own simple design and a variety of open-work structures for plants and trees to grow in. Condominiums are more ornate than apartments, but all have life on the exterior, making the varying amounts of money invested almost indistinguishable.

The difference between business centers and government buildings is design complexity. Business centers have intricately designed patterns in the building structures themselves, while government buildings have simple lines.  Despite that subtle distinction, the government seems to spare no expense when it comes to their buildings. Ethereal’s main government building, The Tower, is slate-colored with long vertical lines. There is no metal-work art, but there are many slender openings, similar to the Gaudi Cathedral in Spain. Within many of those openings there is dark plant-life growing, perhaps small trees or tall bushes; it’s hard to tell from the ground. The entryway to The Tower is about two stories tall and covered in rectangular metal archways and glass. It feels devoid of life, but yet I know there are hundreds, no thousands, of people who are in there. I don’t recall ever seeing more than one or two people entering or exiting the building.

I hear that a lot of people wish they lived here in Ethereal, but it’s not our choice where we get to live. When or if we ever move is up to officials in The Tower.  The Tower is not a unique name; every metropolis has one. Each city, whether on land or in the air, is connected to a metropolis, and each metropolis has a local government housed in its largest building, always called The Tower.  Each of the floating cities is not a part of any state, but instead they are functions of the larger government called The Confederation. Any land states are also assigned to a Confederation, and the Confederations each answer to Earth’s government, The Dominion. We’re all used to this system because it’s been several generations since The Dominion first came to power and abolished the previous nations and government systems. It was what the people wanted. It seemed to be the perfect solution to all of the conflict in the world at that time. Instead of multiple nations and factions that oftentimes clashed and killed each other, and instead of separate nations fighting against militant terrorist groups, it was thought, Why not have a unified  government and a world- agreed-upon system of laws and law enforcement? It was supposed to bring world peace, eliminate unnecessary national and local spending and redistribute the world’s wealth in an effort to eliminate poverty.

Ethereal is the only place I have known as home, and until recently, it has always felt like my home. Sometimes life gives us a curve ball—and when we want to leave, we can’t.

 

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Improved Revision of Prelude in “Floating to the Ground”

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I’m honestly uninspired by and have no likable ideas for my “Toby the Turtle Goes to College” story. I like the idea of it, but everything I have so far is not worth “publishing” here. I also can’t get “Floating to the Ground” out of my mind. I was not happy with my original revision of the Prelude, and this afternoon I revised it when an idea came to me. Now, I feel fully satisfied with it.

I haven’t written here in awhile because of my lack of spark for the turtle story and because I’ve been busier than I anticipated. My work (high school English teacher) has me as busy as I expected, and Wyldlife (middle school YoungLife) started back up last week–but I also just received a lead for a freelance editing job. It’s literally one job, one manuscript, but it’s the start that I was hoping and praying for months ago. We’ll see what happens with that! If you like or are curious about “Floating to the Ground,” then this post is for you! I would love to expand this into a full novel, IF I can think of enough material. For now, it is a short story with potential for inward expansion (sounds very Narnian and Whovian). Enjoy!

“Floating to the Ground”

    by Christine Flower

 

Prelude

I’m stuck here in this city in the sky – it’s my inescapable prison.  I am here, and he’s deploying to land in three days. There’s nothing I can do about it, and it sucks.

Norman Pierce and I met four years ago in high school; we were just seventeen—it feels so long ago. He came to school as a new student on a Friday in April from a place called Nevada, which is on land, nowhere near here. The Tower in his Confederation did what’s called Reassignment, and because his family’s names were on the list, they were forced to move.

I would do anything for Norman. When I talk to him he looks me in the eyes, full of intention. I can tell that he’s thinking about what I’m saying because it’s like his eyes are asking me questions before his mouth even opens.

Our friendship kindled about eight months after we met. My grandma was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I felt like I was barely surviving.  One day when Norman and I were walking down the hallway on our way to our second hour, he said (I’ll never forget this), “You’re talking about T. Rhodes–why his song inspires you so much. You’re talking about your job being great, but what about you? I can tell there’s something more, but you haven’t told me… And then he waited… It didn’t take long, maybe a few seconds, and my voice let out almost a screaming cry; I instantly started sobbing. We went outside quickly because I was so embarrassed to cry in front of others like that. It was only when we were outside that I noticed he was holding my hand. It didn’t feel romantic or anything. Norman was just being my friend. He ran into the guys’ bathroom for some toilet paper because my face was all wet, and my nose was running. I stood up, and he instinctually wrapped his arms around me until I could calm down. Then we hid from the school security guards and just left. We talked for two hours as we drove around Ethereal. Norman, the guy who usually seemed a bit too serious, made me laugh that day more than any other person has. It was after that, that most of my free time was spent with him. And then The Assignment came.

Change feels like punishment when you enjoy your life, but it can also bring an unexpected joy when your new life brings you people you come to love. That’s what happened with us. Our love was kept a secret from us, by us, until The Assignment was delivered about a month ago.

~Marcia Newquest

“Rainbows”

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Despite my revulsion of being cheesy and predictable, I really am a romantic (as in the Romantic era) at heart. This story is romantic in that sense. I originally wrote this story when I was in college. Let’s just say I haven’t been an undergrad in awhile… I have always liked this story, but I was never satisfied with it. It has dialect, magic, and pain, which makes for a different sort of combination. I wrote it as a fairy tale in a creative writing class, but it isn’t a love story; I have mostly thought of it as a children’s story. I attempted revising this several times, but I had some serious creative writing blocks over the years until recently. I just did a final revision, and the formatting for this story on my blog isn’t my ideal (I’m a blog novice)–Jack’s monologue is intended to be similar to a block quote. When I wrote “Rainbows,” most of my friends seemed to like it. So, to you, my blog-reading friends, Enjoy!

“Rainbows” by Christine Flower 

Once upon a time there was a man named Mr. Browning who owned a small coffee shop, The Magician’s Nephew.  Legend says that he adds a dash of magic to his coffee beans, and only one who is worthy of his magic would receive the desire of his heart.  This person would need to have a deep, unconditional love for another person which would exceed his love for himself. Simple enough, but not easily achieved.

The walls, ceilings and floors of The Magician’s Nephew were midnight blue with gold stars, moons, and planets scattered in various places. Standing ten feet high were twenty-four blocks of glass stacked on top of and next to one another, forming the front door.  In the afternoon the sun shone through this door, casting rainbows on the shiny tile floor. Smells of coffee and chocolate-mint lingered in the air, while sounds of spinning galaxies, shooting stars, flutes and keyboards enticed the ears.

Ted Mansfield was a regular customer of Mr. Browning’s coffee shop. He had a wife of eleven years named Sharon, and they had an eight year old daughter named Molly. Ted’s family was unusual by most folks’ standards. While Ted worked from 8 to 3 at the Salvation Army store downtown, Sharon worked at the Sontacque Corporation as the head of the Department of International Services. Molly attended the Bronson School for the Blind. Every day after work Ted picked up Molly from school and took her to The Magician’s Nephew where they would order the usual: a chocolate mint cappuccino for Ted and a hot chocolate with three marshmallows and whipped cream off to the side for Molly.

In the evenings Sharon fixed dinner for Molly, Ted, and any guests that Ted brought home from work. Ted’s guests have included some homeless men, women and children.  Other guests have included some stray dogs and cats that now frequent the Mansfield home.

The neighbors often gossiped about this “strange Mansfield family.” Mrs. Higley, the next door neighbor lady with a perfectly cut lawn and flowers that looked as prim as her poodle, complained about the “filthy people” that were always coming in and out of the Mansfields’ house.

“Who do they think they are? …Why, why someone might take advantage of their niceness and rob them blind…That’ll show them.  Serves them right…feeding strangers and all.”

Though the Mansfields took no offense at their neighbors, Sharon sometimes entertained her family with an imitation of Mrs. Higley, “Mr. Mansfield, do you realize the reputation you are giving this neighborhood by bringing in those people?”

Ted would interrupt, “She’s not that bad.” His face was always a mixture of bright eyes, sounds of suppressed laughter, and a tone that said, “I kind of feel sorry for the old woman.” Then he would add, “You just have to learn to like her in her own way.”

Whatever that meant, thought Sharon. “You’re right,” Sharon said. We don’t want to insult Mrs. Higley, but you’ve got to admit, she can be a bit ridiculous at times.”

“True,” admitted Ted, “but we can all be ridiculous at times.”

As Ted and Sharon carried on this conversation, Molly listened intently while wondering why Mrs. Higley acted so grouchy to everyone.  Maybe she’s just lonely, she thought.  After all, everyone knew she lies alone with only her poodle, Ruby, for a companion.

One evening Ted brought home a guest named Jack, but everyone down at The Salvation Army knew him as “Jack the Story Man” because he loved to tell stories; he always had something to say about something.  Jack’s stories were not campfire ghost stories or fairy tales. They were stories about his life—and what a life this man had lived! There were stories about the time he hitchhiked from Louisiana to New York. There were stories about his long lost love, Miss Ida he called her.  And there were stories about growing up the oldest of six kids.

That evening when the Mansfields and Jack were eating dinner, Ted piped up and asked, “Jack, when are you going to tell us one of your famous stories?”

Jack replied with relief, “I was wonderin’ when you was goin’ to let me talk.  My mouth don’t know what ta do when it ain’t talkin’.  Now, y’all just sit tight and git quiet ‘cause I got a story to tell:

Tonight when we was drivin’ here I saw this shoe shop, an’ it reminded me of the time when I was twelve yea’s ol’.  Now when I was twelve, my father died, leavin’ me an’ Mama to raise my younga brothas an’ sistas. Now there was six of us kids; so Mama had her han’s full. An’ since I bein’ the oldes’, I had to he’p her, ya see.  Anyhow, we was in bad times, bein’ my father died an’ Mama not havin’ much money.  So, I had to go get me a job an’ he’p feed the kids an’ pay the bills.  Now these was bad times with the Depression an’ all, an’ jobs don’t come easy, ‘specially to kids.

One day when I was walkin’ home from school, I got me this silly notion to go into Mr. Harry’s shoe shop to see if I could get me a job. An’ he did get me a job jest like that. I worked ev’ryday afta schoo’ an’ on  Saturdays too. This he’ped out Mama a whole bunch till Mickey—that’s my younger brother got real sick ‘round Thanksgivin’. Ooh, we was in trouble!  Mickey need’ a docta real bad, but we didn’ have no money for a docta.  Now Mr. Harry was real good to me.  He treated me just like I was his son.  He was always askin’ about me an’ Mama an’ the other kids; so he knew all ‘bout Mickey.

Wheneva’ I would talk ‘bout my fam’ly, his face got all bright like a           shiny new penny.  It was like he was glowin’ inside or somethin’.  He was always tellin’ me to believe in my dreams an’ to love ev’rybody real good.  So, I did best I could.  He was a real unusual man that Mr. Harry was.  Some people was afraid of him, says he was magic or  somethin’. Well, I knew he was good, even if he was magic. Anyhow, Mickey was real sick an’ needed a doctoa, and I still didn’ have ‘nough money an’ Mr. Harry was even payin’ me a little extra.  I was afraid Mickey would die or somethin’. So, one night I lay in my bed an’ talk to Jesus. I said, ‘Jesus, if you’re up there, would you help Mickey?’  I was sure Mickey was gonna get better. The next mornin’ was Saturday; so, I got up ‘fore everyone else to he’p out Mama with the cleanin’ and get ready for work.  When I put on my coat, I felt somethin’ strange in my coat pocket.  There was an  env’lope in there.  It was grey an’ said “Jack Jones” on it.  Now, I didn’ remember no one givin’ me no letter. I was a little afraid ‘bout this whole thing. Well, I opened that letter, an’ you would never believe what was inside. There was $1,000 an’ a piece a yella paper that said, ‘Your dream has not been forgotten.’  That paper wasn’ signed or nothin’. So, of course I woke up Mama right away an’ showed her what I got.  Now normally Mama never took no money from no one, but this had no name.  She just cried; I ain’ never seen Mama so happy.  We had    more money than we need for the doctor.  It was just a miracle.  ‘Course she couldn’t visit the doctor till Monday; so, we had to wait a couple a days.  In the meantime, I had to go to work before I was late…I was EXCITED! I walked so fast that mornin’. I just couldn’t wait to tell Mr. Harry about the money an’ the strange paper that come with it.

When I got there, it was the strangest thing, though.  When I got to work, Mr. Harry wasn’t there, an’ his shoe shop was empty.  Then, after standin’ there a minute scratchin’ my head, an’ I remember   what them people said about Mr. Harry.  They said he was magic. Well, after that I believe them because he always told me about believin’ in my dreams…an’ then the note with the money said my dreams weren’ forgotten.  Yep.  I just knew it was him.  Now, he was gone.  Strange man, that Mr. Harry.  I swear that’s a true story.

“Wow!” said Molly. “Did that really happen?”

“Sure did, sweethar’.  An’ I still got that note at home to prove it.  It’s pretty ol’ like me, but I still got it.”

That evening when Ted and Molly dropped Jack home, he invited them in for a few minutes.  “Now Molly,” said Jack. “I got somethin’ I wan’ to give you.” Just then Jacked walked over to the closet and pulled down an old shoe box that said, “Harry’s Shoe Shop.”  The box was brown cardboard with dusty, red writing. Jack lifted the lid and pulled out a wrinkled, yellow slip of paper with rough edges.  It said, “Your dream has not been forgotten.”

Jack explained, “Molly, this is the paper I got in my jacket pocket one mornin’ when I was a little older than you.  Now you’re a young lady, and young ladies got dreams.  I want to give you this piece a paper so you won’t forget that your dreams can come true too.  Now, I ain’ rich or nothin’, but I got a lot of dreams come true.  I think the secret is believin’ in them, even when people think you crazy or somethin’.”

“Thank you, Jack” replied Molly.  She held the paper in her left hand while her right hand traveled slowly across it. The paper felt like cloth because it was badly wrinkled, and the paper fibers made it feel like cotton. Then, she held it up to her nose and sniffed it.  It smelled like old leather because it had been in that shoe box with an old pair of Jack’s leather shoes.

That night while Molly lay in bed, she held that old piece of paper tightly clenched in her hands.  Her imagination ran wild as she thought about her dream.  “If I could see, I would color pretty pictures of rainbows and trees and cats…I could go to the circus and see the performers…Oh, I would just…just SEE!”

Monday morning was Molly’s eye doctor appointment with Dr. McKinney.  Dr. McKinney was a slender man who towered to 6’5”.  His hair was charcoal-colored and neatly combed.  As he walked, there was a bounce in his step.  He smiled whenever his patients entered the office.  When he got excited, his voice rose, and Ted secretly referred to him as “Jiminy Cricket.”

“I would like to go ahead and try the surgery on Molly,” Dr. McKinney said.  “There are no guarantees that she’ll be able to see, but there is a chance it might work.”

Ted’s thoughts wandered as Dr. McKinney spoke. He knew how much Molly wanted to see, but the surgery would be expensive.  Of course Molly’s worth it, but what if it doesn’t work?  She’ll be so disappointed. Ted decided to step outside to call Sharon.  “What do you think we should do, hon?” Ted quietly whispered to his wife outside the office door.

“We can’t hurt by trying, but I think the person we should be asking is Molly,” Sharon insightfully responded. She was good at doing that.

Ted stepped back inside to talk with Molly, and Molly could sense the tension in her father’s voice.  Ted asked, “Baby, would you like to try the surgery?”

“Yeah,” she replied very nonchalantly.

Ted faced Dr. McKinney and said, “Alright, we’re ready to do this.”

Dr. McKinney inquired, “How does a week from tomorrow sound?”

“That’ll be fine,” responded Ted with quiet relief and trepidation.

“I’ll tell Joyce to schedule you for Tuesday, the fourth at 9:00 a.m.  I’ll see you then.  Take care Molly; you’ll do just fine.”

“Thank you, Dr. McKinney,” said Molly.

“You’re welcome.  I’ll see you soon.”

Later on that afternoon Ted and Molly went to The Magician’s Nephew. As they walked in the front door, the sounds of synthesizers, clinking metal and jets reminded Molly of the feeling she got while riding a roller coaster last year at the State Fair.

Mr. Browning looked up while finishing his cappuccino.  As he smiled, his eyes lit up like a warm campfire.  “Hello Molly. Hi Ted.  Can I get you two the usual?”

“Yeah,” replied Ted.

“So what have you two been up to today?” said Mr. Browning.

“We…we just got back from…” Ted started to reply.

Molly interrupted, “Daddy, can I tell him?”

“Go ahead, Baby.”

“We just went to Dr. McKinney’s, and he said maybe he can make me see next week.”

Ted quickly added, “Dr. McKinney is Molly’s ophthalmologist.  He’s scheduled Molly for an experimental eye surgery a week from tomorrow, and if it’s successful, Molly will be able to see.”

“Well, today your hot chocolate and cappuccino are on me!” exclaimed Mr. Browning.

“Mr. Browning, you don’t have to do that,” said Ted gratefully.

“Well, what else are we lonely magicians supposed to do?  I’m sure that surgery isn’t cheap,” Mr. Browning added, “and every little bit helps.”

“Are you sure?” asked Ted.

“Ted, I want to,” said Mr. Browning.

“Thanks,” said Ted.  “Can I ask you a silly question?  Why do you always call yourself a magician?”

“Well, my friend, who do you think the magician is in The Magician’s Nephew coffee shop?”  Just then Ted placed his hand over his daughter’s and Mr. Browning added, “You’ve got to believe in your dreams.”

The next several days were days of preparation for everyone in the Mansfield household, especially for Molly.  She was determined to see.  Every night before falling asleep, she thought of all the things she could finally do when she finally had sight, but what she wanted to see most was the circus.

Even Ted had become a little giddy at the thought of Molly seeing.  His hopes were high, and the possibility of Molly’s surgery failing seemed to fade.  He thought, First, we’ll have to take her to the zoo…no…we’ll take her to the park for a picnic…no…we’ll take her to the ocean.  It was as if he were planning how to spend his money when he won the lottery.

Sharon, on the other hand, remained calm and reasonable. Facts and statistics on the possible failure/success rate ran through her mind like a business report. This stability was also her weakness, because sometimes she was a little too realistic, bursting both Molly’s and Ted’s dreams. But she meant well; she did love them both very much.

On the day of the surgery, Molly was neither nervous, nor afraid. Instead, she was so excited that she couldn’t wait to get started.  Sharon and Ted anxiously sat in the waiting room while Molly underwent her surgery.  They didn’t know why they were so nervous since her bandages wouldn’t be off for a few weeks.  Nevertheless, Ted bit his nails, while Sharon compulsively read her magazines.

When the surgery was over, Sharon, Ted, and Molly were all relieved.  Sharon and Ted were glad because no parents like to think of their child in surgery; Molly was happy because she knew she was going to be able to see. In the meantime, they would have to wait for the bandages to come off.

Sharon and Molly had the easiest time waiting, but Ted was so nervous that he had no fingernails left to bite. For Ted, the clock seemed to tick slower and slower until it seemed that time would almost run backwards. By the end of the last week, Ted couldn’t even plan what he wanted to do with Molly when she could see.  Finally, though, he decided to sit down and relax.  After all, he couldn’t make her see.

At the doctor’s office, Sharon and Ted sat around Molly and Dr. McKinney; their hands were sweating. Dr. McKinney slowly lifted the left bandage off. Molly made no indication that she could see.  Then he removed the right bandage.  As he did this, he asked her the long-awaited question, “Can you see anything, Molly?”

Sharon and Ted drew in a deep breath right before Molly spoke. “No.” Molly said.

“What?!” Ted asked in disbelief.  Just then Molly began to cry.  The one thing she had hoped for with all of her heart had failed. Ted and Sharon hugged their daughter while Dr. McKinney could only bring himself to say a heartfelt, “I’m sorry.” There wasn’t really anything else to say since all of them knew that this surgery might not work.

“It’s not your fault.  You said there was a chance,” replied Sharon.  As the three of them walked out of the doctor’s office, Joyce looked up to ask how it went but decided not to when she saw their faces.  Instead, she looked at them with concern in her eyes, gave a gentle smile, and politely said, “Good-bye.”

That evening, neither Molly nor Ted were very hungry, but they still forced down a little food. Dinner was fairly quiet, except for the cats meowing in the living room and Sharon failing to make Ted and Molly smile.

After dinner, Molly lay in bed dreading the thought of having to go back to school.  It wasn’t that she disliked her school; it was just that she told her friends and teachers that she was going to be able to see—she just knew that she would.  Now she had to face them all with her sad, failed dream.

The days back at school were rough for Molly, but not as bad as she thought they would be.  Every once in a while someone would tease her, but that was immediately stopped by Molly’s teacher Mrs. Patterson. During this time, she and Mrs. Patterson became close because Molly’s friends frequently changed their minds about if Molly was really their friend. Actually, though, what Molly didn’t know is that they were jealous of her. Most of them didn’t even have the chance for this surgery.  They were either too poor to afford or didn’t medically qualify for participation in this experimental procedure.

One day Molly and Mrs. Patterson were talking during lunch.  Mrs. Patterson shared with Molly about the time she wished for a little girl. For months, she and Mr. Patterson waited, and finally she became pregnant with a little girl.  She carried this baby inside of her for a few months, but the baby died before she was born.  Mr. and Mrs. Patterson were really said, but they still didn’t give up their hope of someday having a little girl.

Molly cried at lunch that day because somebody else knew what it was like to lose a dream, and she wasn’t alone anymore.  In fact, learning about what happened to Mrs. Patterson gave her hope again.

After school, when Molly and Ted were at The Magician’s Nephew, Molly told her dad about lunch with Mrs. Patterson. As Molly shared her story, Ted began squinting his eyes a little and biting down on his bottom lip.  He realized that he had forgotten about his little girl.  All this time Molly had been alone; Ted had forgotten her by holding onto his dead dream for her—that one day Molly would see.

Since the day that Molly had lunch with Mrs. Patterson, Molly began improving in school, and she started smiling again.  Molly no longer cared what the kids at school said about her because she knew she was not alone. She also came to accept that it’s okay for dreams to die because if Mrs. Patterson could make it, then she could too.

One day at school Mrs. Patterson gave an especially interesting lesson; it was about rainbows. They read in Braille about the many beautiful colors of the rainbow.  As Molly’s fingers moved across the pages, she was imagining different flavors of her favorite foods. I bet each color is like a different flavor, she thought. When they came to the color red, Mrs. Patterson said it was warm like a summer day.  The made Molly think of The Magician’s Nephew because it was warm inside—just right, and Mr. Browning served nice warm things to drink, like her favorite hot chocolate and her dad’s favorite chocolate-mint cappuccino.  I wonder if red is as good as hot chocolate, she thought. I bet it is.

That day while Molly and Ted were at The Magician’s Nephew, Ted asked Molly about her day at school as Mr. Browning secretly listened. “Today we read about rainbows—the colors sound so neat!” I think they’re like different flavors, and red is like Mr. Browning and his coffee shop, especially his hot chocolate.”

As Molly gave her little speech about the rainbows they learned about in class that day, Ted’s mind wandered.  He sipped his cappuccino and thought about Molly and her rainbows,  I wish Molly could see her rainbows.

“And when we got to violet, I remembered the pretty-smelling flowers in the garden.  I wonder if violet looks like I think it smells?”  Molly continued.

“What do flowers smell like?” asked Ted.

“Like fruit or Mommy’s perfume.”

That afternoon before Sharon returned home from work, Ted was reading Molly a story, and a strange sensation came over Molly.  She became frightened and began screaming, “Daddy!  Daddy! What’s happening to me?!” Her eyes grew warmer and then started to tingle.

“What’s wrong?” Ted asked.

“My eyes!” she screamed.  Ted didn’t know what to do.  Maybe she has an infection from the surgery? he thought.  As Ted began searching for his phone to call Dr. McKinney, a fuzzy haze appeared in front of Molly’s eyes. When he began dialing, still trying to somehow calm Molly down, she began to see faint images.

“Daddy!  I can see!”  she happily screamed.

“What?!”  he responded in a daze, as he started putting the phone down.

“I can see!” The images gradually came into focus, and for the first time, Molly could see her dad.  Just then Molly reached out and hugged her dad.  They just held each other and cried.  This couldn’t be happening, but to their amazement, it was.  Of course they wanted to call Sharon, but they both decided they HAD to tell her in person, not on the lousy phone.  So, they decided to run and tell Mr. Browning before Sharon returned.

They grabbed their jackets, and as Ted was putting his on jacket, he reached into his pocket for his keys and found a piece of paper folded inside.  He took it out, and on the front it said, “Ted Mansfield.”  When he opened it, all that it said was, “Your dream has not been forgotten.”

Wonder where this came from? he thought. He told Molly because she was there, and this was whole thing was happy and odd.

She said, “That’s like Jack’s paper. Remember?”

Of course, he did remember.  Hmmm, was all he could think.

When they got to The Magician’s Nephew, they tried the door, but it wouldn’t open.  It was locked. Then they looked in the window and found the coffee shop completely empty.  There was no furniture, no coffee, and no Mr. Browning.

Just then Ted realized that all of the day’s strangeness was Mr. Browning’s doing.  As Ted and Molly peered through the window once more before leaving, Ted pointed out the rainbows reflecting on the floor from the glass-block door.  “Look there, Molly.  There’s your rainbows!”

They both smiled and stared at the rainbows; their dream had not been forgotten.

“Floating to the Ground” – in its entirety & revised/updated

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I’ve been absent here because I just returned from a 5-day summer camp for middle school kids. It was lots of fun, I slept a little, and I killed my body for a couple of days–all for a good cause. Since I returned, I revised “Floating to the Ground,” and I am publishing it here in its entirety on this post. Enjoy! (My next goal is to revise and post a story I wrote many years ago.)

“Floating to the Ground”
by Christine Flower

Prelude
I’m stuck here in this city in the sky – it’s my inescapable prison. I am here, and he’s deploying to land in three days. There’s nothing I can do about it, and it sucks.

Norman Pierce. I would do anything for him. He listens; he really hears me. He lets me in; he doesn’t try to hide anything from me. He makes me laugh. He calms me down when I can’t stop crying. He’s strong. He thinks about the future, and he thinks about other people besides himself all the time. He’s flawed too. He’s too serious sometimes, but he lives fiercely. Sometimes I have to throw something at him just to get him to lighten up a bit, but then it’s game on. He fights back until we laugh hysterically at ourselves. If he’s in a bad mood when I do that, then he just looks at me, and I back off—clearly he has other things on his mind.

Norman and I met four years ago in high school; we were just seventeen—it feels so long ago. Norman came to school as a new student on a Friday in April. Kind of weird, huh? He came from a place called Nevada, which is on land, nowhere near here. The Tower in his Confederation did what’s called Reassignment, and because his family’s names were on the list, they were forced to move.

Reassignment feels like punishment when you enjoy your life, but it can also bring an unexpected joy when your new life brings you people you come to love. That’s what happened with us. Our love was kept a secret from us, by us, until The Assignment was delivered about a month ago.
~Marcia Newquest

Measure 1
Norman and I live in a place called Ethereal; it’s really quite beautiful, even garden-like. Everything here considered flora was planted because this city is really a livable, hovering craft of sorts, enough to fairly comfortably hold about one-and-a-half million people. The city itself is open air; it kind of reminds me of a giant convertible. There are vines growing on trees, and the trees are everywhere, even inside some of our buildings. It feels tropical, but not excessively hot. A lot of people wish they lived here, but it’s not our choice where we get to live. When or if we ever move is up to officials in The Tower. The way The Tower system works is this: each city is connected to a metropolis, and each metropolis has a local government housed in its largest building called The Tower. The floating cities are not a part of any state, but instead are functions of the larger government called The Confederation. Any land states are also assigned to a Confederation. Each country has its own Confederation that answers to Earth’s government, The Dominion. We’re all used to this system because it’s all we’ve ever known, but sometimes life gives us a curveball—and when we want to leave, we can’t.

Norman is in the military for our Confederation (Confed. 7), and Confed. 7 requires that all males under 40 serve in the military. We, or should I say they, are supposed to feel free because they are given windows of choice about when they will serve: 18-22 years old, 23-26, 27-30, 31-35, or 36-39. Norman decided early on that he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible, so he chose the first window; he knew as a teenager that what he wanted most was to get married and start a family. Most guys choose one of the second through forth windows because they want to party with no responsibilities while they can.

Once you sign up for your window, you don’t know when The Assignment will come; all that you know is that it will fall within your age window. Norman got chosen for The Assignment twenty-eight days ago. I was mentally prepared for The Assignment to happen, but I still didn’t know how I’d feel when it came.

Twenty-eight days ago was like a death blow in a fight that I didn’t even know I was in. He came by to tell me in person.

“Can we talk?”

“What’s this about?” I started to panic inside. Norman never said it like that before.

“The Assignment came, and I have to leave Ethereal in thirty-five days. They’re sending me to a land state. A land state! I won’t even get to see you for at least a year.”

“Who else have you told, besides your mom?” My voice was getting a bit shaky at this point. I never expected him to have to go so far away. It didn’t seem real, like it was some kind of weird dream that you know you’re in, and it’s just a matter of waking yourself up. I kept thinking to myself, “Wake up. Wake up. Wake up!” But it didn’t work. The weird dream just continued.

Norman replied, “My sister, and that’s it. I’ve gotta still tell Steve, Derrick, and the other guys. Jon’s coming too. Same assignment.”

“Oh…” I couldn’t find more words. I’m sure my silence felt like carelessness, perhaps even coldness, but hearing, ‘I have to leave Ethereal in thirty-five days,’ stole every thought from my mind. I was knocked down and robbed blind. My eyes were quickly and uncontrollably filling, and the hot tears started falling like a sudden storm outside Ethereal. Why was I freaking out? We were just good friends, close friends. But I felt like my heart was about to get ripped from my still living body. I wasn’t supposed to feel…like this.

And then it happened. I glanced up, and he was looking right at me. It’s strange, as if in this whole time we’ve been friends, I had been holding my breath for this moment. It’s like we were gazing into each other’s souls. Silent and knowing. I don’t know how long it lasted; I just lost myself there. Thirty seconds, maybe a minute. Then Norman softly mouthed the words, “Me too.” It was almost unnecessary because I could sense him feeling the same way as me. There was nothing else to say then. It was like someone just delivered news of a death in the family. What else can you say in that moment when all you can do is feel? You’re just there: present, longing, and loving. And that was us in that moment. He took the edge of my right hand in his and pulled me in, placing my hand on his back. Then I wrapped my other arm around him. We held each other. My crying was like the drizzle that turned into a steady rain; he squeezed tighter. I have never felt safer, and I have never felt more broken. ~Marcia

Measure 2
It’s hard to know what to do when it feels like you’re living with an hourglass relentlessly reminding you that this measurement of life we call “time” is rapidly running out. After that moment when we knew how the other felt, it seemed like I had a thorn lodged in my skin, always tinging with the pain that shouted its presence because of Norman’s impending deployment; loving Norman was worth it, though. His leaving in less than a month meant that I would be alone, but it wasn’t the idea of being alone that harassed me; I hated the thought of life without him there sharing it with me. I knew that leaving under those circumstances was not the same as death, and I knew that deployment was temporary, but when you’re used to the regular company of your closest friend—and when you realize you love him—it just feels like too much.

To pass the time, we did whatever we could to prepare him for his deployment, and seemingly every conversation centered on The Assignment. Norman would be going to a land state called South California, and it’s supposed to be warm there most of the time. He would be able to pack one suitcase for his civilian clothes and other personal items, but that was all. Everything had to pass Confed. 7 inspections before leaving. No weapons, of course; no food; and only two pictures would be allowed from home.

“I can’t leave you, Marcia, but I can’t get out of this either.” Norman’s voice was starting to taper off, but gathered strength as if enlisting his own inner troops. His eyes were intense, almost productive, like he could accomplish anything by simply looking at it. His forehead and cheeks were no longer soft, but rather taut like a drum. Slowly the color of near rage was filling his face, and his lips pressed together like a body builder under the stress of a dead lift. He’s seriously considering how to get out of this, I thought.

Confed. 7 and its mother government, The Dominion, do not treat lightly potential dissenters. Anyone labeled a dissenter is seen as hating The Good, which is, in simple terms, the equivalent of hating human happiness, so we’re told. Don’t disrupt the “happiness,” Norman; we can’t afford the payment, if you do.

“Babe, you seem upset. Let’s go for a walk and talk.” That was the best I could offer at the time, and I thought a walk would be a good way to relieve some stress while we talked things out.

We walked side by side down a tree-lined sidewalk. “I can’t do this. I can’t leave you,” he said as he looked me in the eyes; he was resolute. Then we turned our eyes away and walked, looking out as if our future was in the distance, down past the buildings looming in our craft-framed horizon. I had to talk some sense into him.
“I don’t want you to go; it’s killing me too, but you have to go. You know you don’t have any other options, unless you like death or mysterious imprisonment on a floating city.”

After that, his laser-straight gaze was focused out there somewhere. Silence was our arbitrator in a disagreement we knew inside we really weren’t having. We continued walking like this for several minutes, hand in hand, gripping firmly because this wasn’t the place for nostalgia.

Norman finally broke the frustrated silence. “You’re right. If I tried anything, it would be suicide.”

“I don’t want to lose you…permanently,” I added, just to confirm my rationale, not only to him but to myself. “A year is better than forever.” It sounded so logical, so devoid of emotion, but everything in me was screaming. “At least we have DTC.” That wasn’t exactly comforting, but I was trying to look for some shard of good in all of this. DTC was the acronym for Direct Technology Communication. When we’re not face to face with someone, we use DTC, which is a device about the size of a thumb tip. It projects a life-size 3-D image of the person you’re talking to, and you can both see and hear the other person. Aside from the lack of touch and smell (since it’s just an image), it feels like the person you’re talking to is really next to you. It’s nice in theory, but there’s no real privacy. Not having privacy with DTC never bothered me until now; I guess I never felt like anything I said might upset anyone. My thinking was, “Why worry about it?” It sounded like a positive approach, but I guess it was a bit naïve.

In the past I never questioned Confed. 7, or The Dominion for that matter, because life had been generally pleasant for me up until then. I had a decent job, my flat was nice, I was educated and still taking classes so that I could get a better job, and my best friend lived near me. I didn’t have much of an opinion about anything political because none of that stuff ever seemed to affect me. But now I couldn’t stop questioning. Why did The Dominion get to define happiness for us? Why couldn’t citizens have different opinions from what the government considered acceptable? What was wrong with people who disagreed and never wanted to hurt anyone? This was the stuff of my bedtime. Instead of resting, I started thinking. I couldn’t stop thinking…                             ~Marcia

Measure 3
The other night a metal crashing sat me up suddenly in my bed. My heart was pounding, and I was gasping for air in the darkness. I couldn’t see anything except for a mixture of moonlight and the dim light of the street lamps from behind my grey curtains. I started breathing more slowly once I realized I had been sleeping; the noise was only in a dream, and I was in my room, instead of in some strange place. Immediately, I thought of Norman: I thought of us; I thought of this place, and I thought of his leaving, which was now only a week away. This was the fourth night in a row like this. It’s the same scenario each night—a crash wakes me up a bit disoriented and scared until I can remember that I’ve been sleeping; it’s of course dark, and then I think of him.

The clock said 3:07. I wondered if Norman was sleeping, or if he was disturbed at night too. I could have asked him sometime; it’s not like I didn’t have the opportunity. I was afraid. Maybe if I brought it up, then he might start his crazy ideas again of how he could (illegally) stay. It wasn’t worth it. So, I guess this was my little secret, for now.

This keeping-stuff-back seemed mutual though. I couldn’t explain what it was, but I knew Norman wasn’t telling me something. He didn’t seem upset or unhappy with me, but he wasn’t completely there when we were together. There was a freedom missing when he talked to me, like he was holding back. Just yesterday we were discussing what he was supposed to expect in his first couple months of The Assignment. It was all very typical: trainings, meetings, more trainings, and then the alternating flight practice (morning or evening, depending on the squadron’s routine). The more he spoke about it, the more his eyes looked like he was being involuntarily pulled away from me. It was like part of him was reaching for me, and yet another part of him wouldn’t look me in the eyes, as if deep inside himself he was pleading for my help without speaking. It was strange because Norman was never like this.

There were only two days left. Darkness was settling on me like a storm descending on land. Even though Norman was still with me, I was increasingly aching to be with him. He came over after work just so we could be together and talk. When I opened the door, it was so satisfying to kiss him because we didn’t have much longer together. We sat on the couch and started talking about The Assignment again briefly.

“I just met with my commander. There’s been a change. I couldn’t bring myself to telling you sooner.” That must have been why he seemed like he was keeping a part of himself from me, I thought.

“What do you mean, a change?” My voice shifted. I couldn’t shield him from my fear before it slipped out.

“Confed. 7 wants our squadron on a two-year assignment.”

“But I thought you had to serve within your age window?

“I do.” He slowly explained. “But, we have to start our service within that window. So, even though I’m twenty-one, I have to serve as long as my initial deployment needs me…even if it exceeds the end of my window of service that I signed up for.”

“But that’s not how it works” I whined. As I said it, I felt like a baby, but I was upset.

“It doesn’t matter how it has worked before. They change the rules, and we can’t question it.”

“I see…” I needed more time to process this, and I didn’t have time. I was upset and shocked and outraged. This wasn’t fair; they couldn’t just change the rules of service. Hearing this one was like the boxer’s blow to the head that sends him to the ground, finishing him off for the round. “And there’s nothing you can do? You can’t fight this? You can’t request permission to terminate your assignment when you turn twenty-two? You can’t change your assignment window?” I knew it was useless, but I had to ask.

“No, I already asked. ‘Orders are final. The good of the Confederation is final’ is all I was told. It was understood that there were no exceptions and no further questions were allowed. This isn’t what I want, Marcia. This isn’t what I planned for when I signed up.”

Norman quickly shifted the conversation to our future, after The Assignment. His eyes looked at the floor, focusing to the left and then quickly to the right. He said, “I think we should get married when I get back.” As he spoke, his eyes radiated, while his voice both invited and spoke with assurance. Even though he had recently seemed a bit closed off, his heart was completely open with me again in this moment. “No matter what happens, I don’t want to have to walk away from you ever again. Marcia, will you marry me, even though I don’t even have a ring to offer you?”

“Of course I want to marry you—YES! You’re my closest friend. I love you.” I was excited but depressed about the next couple of years. There was no question I wanted to marry him, but I was also scared for him and scared for me if I lost him.

“I love you too. I’ll have more than enough money to take care of us after The Assignment.” The surety of Confed. 7’s decision was like the closing of a chapter. My allegiance was to Norman, to my family, but not to my Confederation and not to The Dominion.                          ~Marcia

Measure 4
Today was the day.

That’s how it hit me. Finality. Norman was scheduled to leave at 4:00 p.m. Since this was his departure for The Assignment, he was allowed to have immediate family and up to five close friends attend The Ceremony of Service. His buddies came and talked to him before I got there; I was an hour late because my boss wouldn’t let me off in time. It worked out though; it gave us more alone time before he had to leave. The Ceremony of Service…what can I say? When people leave for The Assignment, Confed. 7 likes to show off, I mean, “showcase…the dedication, honor, and loyalty” of their citizens who are about to deploy. Since it is not a typical day-to-day military travel situation, it gets celebrated. There’s music, a large party, fireworks for night departures or fly-bys for day departures. Usually at least one dignitary from the Confederation attends The Ceremony of Service as well (The Minister of Service or The Commander of The Confederation). I guess this is all supposed to generate public support for the government and their mandatory military service. I wasn’t feeling celebratory or supportive.

I wore tan heels with Norman’s favorite dress: a sleeveless, dark green short gown with a hemline above my knees—I wanted to look good for him, and I also wore it to trick myself into feeling better; if I looked good, then I felt good, at least a little. The band played in the background: trumpet, trombone, percussion, and flute. First, they played “Anthem of Confederation Seven.” When I was a girl I loved that song; it always reminded me of summer picnics in the park with my family. Now it felt like a funeral dirge, regardless of its tempo. It was the sardonic reminder that Norman was owned; his life was on a short countdown to being held hostage.

Fortunately, the songs changed to popular tunes—it was a welcome distraction from the façade of celebration inflicted upon us.

“Are you nervous, Norman?” We were exactly forty minutes from take-off. I could hear other couples around us having similar conversations. I wondered how long each had been together, how many were married, and how many had the same reaction as us when they found out the service was now two years, instead of one.

“I don’t think nervous is the word. I’m angry, but I’m doing what I know to do. I smile when they need me to, say ‘Yes, Sir’ or ‘Yes, Ma’am’ when I’m expected to. How are you doing?”

“I guess I feel kind of the same way. I can’t believe that you’re leaving today. I don’t want this time we’ve had together to end. I want to be your wife; I want you to be my husband; I want us to live with privacy, with real security, with true happiness, not what Confed. 7 says will make us happy. I’m not excited that you’re leaving; I love you. But I don’t want you to talk about how to…change this.”

At that, the music shifted to, of all things, a slow love song. This didn’t help, but Norman went with it and lightened the mood a little bit by grabbing my hands and bringing me in for a dance twirl. I started laughing because I wasn’t expecting it; it was an unexpected moment of freedom. I love that about Norman. He’s thoughtful and caring, and on occasion he’s even spontaneous, sometimes playful.

When the song was over we kissed; he held me there until the loudspeaker blared, “Five minute warning for pre-departure boarding.” That immediately extinguished the mood. I looked at Norman and started wiping the tears that were coming against my will. “Two years,” escaped my lips before I even realized I wasn’t just thinking that to myself.” Shannon and Linda, Norman’s mom and sister, cut in and started hugging Norman, telling him how much they loved him and would miss him. Shannon apologized for both of them, for just jumping in between us. I felt a little pushed away, but I know them; I know they didn’t mean it. With about a minute and a half before he had to walk to the plane, Norman escaped from them, took my hands in his, looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you. I will be back,” and then he kissed me one more time. I couldn’t stop crying, no matter how much assurance he offered me. He was leaving.

“I love you so much, Norman. I already miss you. Contact me as soon as you arrive.”

“I will.”
Jon, his buddy also on The Assignment, was suddenly shaking Norman’s shoulder saying, “Come on. We have to go!” They had already given the final call, but we were so distracted that neither of us heard it. The after call hadn’t been given yet, but Jon didn’t want Norman to get in trouble before he even got on the plane.

“It’s time. I love you” were the last words Norman said to me before getting on that plane. I didn’t want to let go. And just like when we first knew we loved each other, all we could do was look into each other’s eyes, love with outstretched souls, and temporarily live there in that moment as he walked away. As soon as we had to look away, I ran. I ran through the crowd of people until I could find a somewhat secluded place to wipe the tears pooling under my eyes while I waited for the plane to take off.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please show your allegiance and happiness for the good of our servicemen and women as the plane prepares for take-off.” At that we were expected to wave to the plane as it taxied down the runway till take off, while the band played another round of “Anthem of Confederation Seven.” For seven long minutes, I stood up, clapped, cheered, and waved; then I quickly brushed off more tears as I walked away.                      ~Marcia

Measure 5
The restless nights continued, as well as my evening waking to sleep-created crashing sounds. I decided to get up and read to at least distract my mind from Norman until I could fall asleep again. I read about engines—it was a book that Norman gave me.

I read the book for about an hour before I started to get tired; I honestly don’t know how I lasted that long. I’m sure it didn’t help that my mind kept wandering back to him.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt hollowed out. I willed myself to school; I don’t remember what my professor said. In between moments of him talking about theories, I scrawled pebbles and other shapes that didn’t really look like anything. I yawned and blinked to try to stay awake; my notes were non-existent. Luckily it was just one class.

Later that afternoon, work dragged on. My boss was kind enough not to write me up when I forgot to file a report. I mentioned Norman to her a few weeks ago, and I told her about his deployment and the sudden decision of the Confederation to make his unit serve two years, instead of one. Everything that day seemed like a foggy haze of patchy memories; I even forgot to eat lunch.

My night improved around 6:00; Norman “visited” me (through DTC). It was great to look into his eyes again and hear his voice! I had this overwhelming desire to touch his shoulder, but I obviously couldn’t. He asked me how I was doing, already knowing the answer to that question. There was a longing in his eyes, but they were also strangely lit up with excitement. I guess the flight, a bit of sleep and some basic training in the day had been good to him. I could have spoken to Norman all night, but the military has limited DTC use, unlike here. After about twenty minutes, it was time to say goodnight. He said, “Marcia, I love you; I will be back—believe that. Then we’ll get married, start a family. It’s going to be okay.” He even wiped some tears from his eyes while I smeared my own.

I said, “I love you too, Babe,” and then we signed off. Bed seemed like the only livable place to be after that. I couldn’t handle any more emotion or any more thinking. My chest was aching. It felt like my heart had been ripped open, exposed, and was pulsating whenever I thought about him.

At 10:21 a metal crash woke me from my sleep again. It seemed like this subconscious nocturnal ritual would never stop. It was odd because I was still hearing something, but I didn’t know what. About two minutes later, my doorbell rang; when I opened it, it was Jon…Jon who was supposed to be on The Assignment with Norman. Although his eyes seemed opened in alertness, his eyes squinted as he said, “Come with me, quickly.” We started running down the stairs. My heart was pounding with questions and nervous excitement. When we got to bottom, he commanded me to “look up.” I couldn’t quite make out the shape in the dark, but I saw something floating to the ground. Jon shined a high-powered flashlight on it; it was a parachute with a landing pod. I felt confused, like I was still sleeping and nothing was coherent. Jon said, “It’s Norman. Go to him.”

“What?!” I ran to Norman, as he was stepping out of the pod. “What’s going on? How…?” I was crying and laughing, but still a little confused about what I was witnessing. “How are you here?”

“Come with us. Jon and some anti-Dominion citizens helped me arrange this. We can be together, but we have to leave now; there’s a borrowed plane waiting in Universal Park. We’re going to fly to the land state, Louisiana, where there’s an underground community that lives near an abandoned air force base; they’re expecting us.”

I had no doubt about what I needed to do that night. I loved Norman, and Ethereal no longer felt like home because of the widespread tentacles of The Dominion.

When we got on the plane the pilot said, “Welcome to the Underground.” Jon, Norman, and I secured ourselves for our immediate take off. Norman and I smiled at each other and squeezed each other’s hands when the pilot announced, “Prepare for take-off.”
Fine

Feedback wanted – revisiting the Prelude of Floating to the Ground

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For my readers of Floating to the Ground, I know that some of the government information is a bit dry, and I want to only include what is necessary. I also want to add information about Marcia and/or Norman in the Prelude so that you as a reader have a reason to care about what happens to them. So, what kind of information do you think is missing about Marcia in the Prelude so that this section draws you in more? I want your opinion. Please and thank you. 🙂

If you’ve never read Floating to the Ground, it’s a sci-fi romance (short story) between Marcia Newquest and Norman Pierce on a floating city called Ethereal.

Here’s the Prelude again:

Prelude

I’m stuck here in this city in the sky – it’s my inescapable prison.  I am here, and he’s deploying to land in three days. There’s nothing I can do about it, and it sucks. This place is called Ethereal; it’s really quite beautiful, even garden-like. Everything here considered flora was planted because this city is really a livable, hovering craft of sorts, enough to fairly comfortably hold about one-and-a-half million people. The city itself is open air; it kind of reminds me of a giant convertible. There are vines growing on trees, and the trees are everywhere, even inside some of our buildings. It feels tropical, but not excessively hot. A lot of people wish they lived here, but it’s not our choice where we get to live. When or if we ever move is up to officials in The Tower.  The way The Tower system works is this: each city is connected to a metropolis, and each metropolis has a local government housed in its largest building called The Tower.  The floating cities are not a part of any state, but instead are functions of the larger government called The Confederation. Any land states are also assigned to a Confederation. Each country has its own Confederation that answers to Earth’s government, The Dominion. We’re all used to this system because it’s all we’ve ever known, but sometimes life gives us a curveball—and when we want to leave, we can’t.

Norman Pierce and I met four years ago in high school; we were just seventeen—it feels so long ago. Norman came to school as a new student on a Friday in April. Kind of weird, huh?  He came from a place called Nevada, which is on the land, nowhere near here. The Tower in his Confederation did what’s called Reassignment, and because his family’s names were on the list, they were forced to move. There doesn’t have to be a specific reason for being chosen for Reassignment, and Reassignment doesn’t have any regularity. The motto of Reassignment is “For the greater good.”

Reassignment feels like punishment when you enjoy your life, but it can also bring an unexpected joy when your new life brings you people you come to love. That’s what happened with us. Our love was kept a secret from us, by us, until The Assignment was delivered about a month ago.

~Marcia Newquest

Measure 5: the end of Floating to the Ground

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Here goes nothing! It’s the end of Floating to the Ground. Enjoy! 🙂

Measure 5

The restless nights continued, as well as my evening waking to sleep-created crashing sounds. I decided to get up and read to at least distract my mind from Norman until I could fall asleep again. I read about engines—it was a book that he let me borrow or have, depending how you look at it. All I had told him before he gave it to me was that I was sometimes having trouble sleeping. I knew he had some aviation books that seemed didn’t interest me, so I asked to borrow one. The one on engines caught my eye because it sounded like good sleeping material.

I read the book for about an hour before I started to get tired; I honestly don’t know how I lasted that long. I’m sure it didn’t help that my mind kept wandering back to him.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt hollowed out. I willed myself to school; I don’t remember what my professor said. In between moments of him talking about theories, I scrawled pebbles and other shapes that didn’t really look like anything. I yawned and blinked to try to stay awake; my notes were non-existent.   Luckily it was just one class.

Later that afternoon, work dragged on. My boss was kind enough not to write me up when I forgot to write a report. I mentioned Norman to her a few weeks ago, and I told her about his deployment and the sudden decision of the Confederation to make his unit serve two years, instead of one. Everything that day seemed like a foggy haze of blocked memory; I even forgot to eat lunch.

My night improved around 6:00; Norman “visited” me (through DTC). It was great to look into his eyes again and hear his voice! I wanted to reach out and touch him, but I obviously couldn’t. He asked me how I was doing, already knowing the answer to that question. There was a longing in his eyes, but they were also strangely lit up with excitement. I guess the trip over to The Assignment, a bit of sleep and some basic training in the day had been good to him. I could have spoken to Norman all night, but they have limited DTC use, unlike here. After about twenty minutes, it was time to say goodnight. He said, “Marcia, I love you; I will be back—believe that. Then we’ll get married, start a family. It’s going to be okay.” He even wiped some tears from his eyes while I was wiping my own.

I said, “I love you too, Babe,” and then we signed off.  Bed seemed like the only livable place to be after that. I couldn’t handle any more emotion or any more thinking. My chest was aching. It felt like my heart had been ripped open, exposed and pulsating whenever I thought about him.

At 10:21 a metal crash woke me from my sleep again. It seemed like this subconscious nocturnal ritual would never stop. It was odd because I was still hearing something, but I didn’t know what. About two minutes later, my doorbell rang; when I opened it, it was Jon…Jon who was supposed to be on The Assignment with Norman. Although his eyes seemed opened in alertness, his eyes sqinted as he said, “Come with me, quickly.” We started running down the stairs. My heart was pounding with questions and nervous excitement. When we got to bottom, he firmly told me to “look up.” I couldn’t quite make out the shape in the dark, but I saw something floating to the ground. Jon shined a high-powered flashlight on it; it was a parachute with a landing pod. I felt confused, like I was still sleeping and nothing was coherent. Jon said, “It’s Norman. Go to him.”

“What?!” I ran to Norman, as he stepping out of the pod. “What’s going on? How…?” I was crying and laughing, but still a little confused about what I was witnessing. “How are you here?” My tension was relieved, but my mind couldn’t accept reality.

“Come with us. Jon and some anti-Dominion citizens helped me arrange this. We can be together, but we have to leave now; there’s a borrowed plane waiting in Universal Park. We’re going to fly to the land state, Louisiana, where there’s an underground community that lives near an abandoned air force base; they’re expecting us.”

I had no doubt about what I needed to do that night. I loved Norman, and Ethereal no longer felt like home because of the widespread tentacles of The Dominion.

When we got on the plane the pilot said, “Welcome to the Underground” as he winked at me just like my dad used to; I smiled as I remembered my dad. Jon, Norman, and I secured ourselves for our immediate take off. Norman and I held hands when the pilot announced, “Prepare for take-off.”

Fine

Measure 4 of Floating to the Ground

Standard

If you want to read the beginning of this story, Floating to the Ground, check out (in this order, on previous posts): Prelude, Measure 1, Measure 2, and Measure 3.

Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you Measure 4:

Measure 4

Today was the day.

That’s how it hit me. Finality. Norman was scheduled to leave at 4:00 p.m. Since this was his departure for The Assignment, he was allowed to have immediate family and up to five close friends attend The Ceremony of Service. His buddies came and talked to him before I got there; I was an hour late because my boss wouldn’t let me off in time. It worked out though; it gave us more alone time before he had to leave. The Ceremony of Service…what can I say? When people leave for The Assignment, Confed. 7 likes to show off, I mean, showcase “the dedication, honor, and loyalty” of their citizens who are about to deploy. Since it is not a typical day-to-day military travel situation, it is gets celebrated. There’s music, a large party, fireworks for night departures or fly-bys for day departures. Usually at least one dignitary from the Confederation attends The Ceremony of Service as well (The Minister of Service or The Commander of The Confederation). I guess this is all supposed to generate public support for the government and their mandatory military service. I wasn’t feeling celebratory or supportive.

I wore tan heels with Norman’s favorite dress: a sleeveless, dark green short gown with a hemline above my knees—I wanted to look good for him, and I also wore it to trick myself into feeling better; if I looked good, then I felt good, at least a little. The band played in the background: trumpet, trombone, percussion, and flute. First, they played “Anthem of Confederation Seven.” When I was a girl I loved that song; it always reminded me of summer picnics in the park with my family. Now it felt like a funeral dirge, regardless of its tempo. It was the sardonic reminder that Norman was owned; his life was on a short countdown to being held hostage.

Fortunately, the songs changed to popular tunes—it was a welcome distraction from the façade of ceremony inflicted upon us.

“Are you nervous, Norman?” We were exactly forty minutes from take-off. I could hear other couples around us having similar conversations. I wondered how long each had been together, how many were married, and how many had the same reaction as us when they found out the service was now two years, instead of one.

“I don’t think nervous is the word. I’m angry, but I’m doing what I know to do. I smile when they need me to, say ‘Yes, Sir’ or ‘Yes, Ma’am’ when I’m expected to. How are you doing?”

“I guess I feel kind of the same way. I can’t believe that you’re leaving today. I don’t want this time we’ve had together to end. I want to be your wife; I want you to be my husband; I want us to live with privacy, with real security, with true happiness, not what Confed. 7 says will make us happy. I’m not excited that you’re leaving; I love you. But I don’t want you to talk about how to…change this.”

At that, the music changed to, of all things, a slow love song. This didn’t help, but Norman went with it and lightened the mood a little bit by grabbing my hands and bringing me in for a dance twirl. I started laughing because I wasn’t expecting it; it was like a moment of freedom. I love that about Norman. He’s thoughtful and caring, and at just the right time, he’s spontaneous, sometimes playful.

When the song was over we kissed; he held me there until the loudspeaker blared, “Five minute warning for pre-departure boarding.” That immediately extinguished the mood. I looked at Norman and started wiping the tears that were coming against my will. “Two years,” escaped my lips before I even realized I wasn’t just thinking that to myself.” Shannon and Linda, Norman’s mom and sister, cut in and started hugging Norman and telling him how much they loved him and would miss him. Shannon apologized for both of them, for just jumping in between us. I felt a little pushed away by them, but I know them; I know they didn’t mean it. With about a minute and a half before he had to walk to the plane, Norman escaped from them, took my hands in his, looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you. I will be back,” and then he kissed me one more time. I couldn’t stop crying, no matter how much assurance he offered me. He was leaving.

“I love you so much, Norman. I already miss you. Contact me as soon as you arrive.”

“I will.” Jon, his buddy also on The Assignment, was suddenly shaking Norman’s shoulder saying, “Come on. We have to go!” They had already given the final call, but we were so distracted that neither of us heard it. The after call hadn’t been given yet, but Jon didn’t want Norman to get in trouble before he even got on the plane.

“It’s time” were the last words Norman said to me before getting on that plane. I didn’t want to let go. And just like when we first knew we loved each other, all we could do was look into each other’s eyes, love with outstretched souls, and temporarily live there in that moment as he walked away. As soon as we had to look away, I ran. I ran through the crowd of people until I could find a somewhat secluded place to wait for the plane to take off.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please show your allegiance and happiness for the good of our servicemen and women as the plane prepares for take-off.” At that we were expected to wave to the plane as it taxied down the runway till take off, while the band played another round of “Anthem of Confederation Seven.” For four long minutes, I stood up, clapped, cheered, and waved; then I wiped away more tears as I walked away.                         ~Marcia