Okay. This is the first thing I ever wrote for the NT. I wrote this summer of 2007, when I was newly thirteen. Note that it's far too short and I kinda sucked at some elements of writing. (not sure the wordcount; probably ~800-1k?)
Shadows of the Past
If you hide from your past, how do you know who you really are? Derrens parting words ran through my mind, teasing my memory, trying to make me remember. Flashes of fire, ash and burning winds ran through me, bits of memory that I tried to hide. The lava… I tried not to remember, but I couldn't help it. I was sucked into my nightmares. My memories.
Heat. That was the first thing I felt when I entered the dreamworld. Searing heat. The first thing I saw was lava, slowly edging over the caldera wall. Slowly heading towards me. The sky was grey with ash, ash that covered everything in sight, except the lava. The lava was glowing, the only light in this world. The sky was grayed out by ash, and I myself had no source of light.
The lava poured over the wall, rushing towards me, a thick wall that I could not avoid. I have no wings, as I am a Brown Zafara. I ran, not knowing it was futile, as each time I had this dream, it seemed like the first time I had done this. The lava slowly gained speed, racing at me, daring me to jump. I jumped. It was my only chance of survival, after all. I jumped over the lava, only to enter the burning forest.
I shook myself out of my nightmare. I still had the burns from that fateful night. My once brown fur was black now, and the memory of how that had happened sucked me back in to the dreamland.
Fire surrounded me, cutting me off from escape. There was only one thing I could do and survive. Run through the fire. I ran as fast as I could, but it wasn't fast enough. My fur was on fire, and I couldn't put it out. I knew there was a river nearby, and I headed towards it as fast as I could. I finally found the river and jumped in it, putting out my fur.
I did not know what had happened until I got back home, but when I did, my owner shrieked, not recognizing me. My eyes, once bright blue had darkened, as had my fur. I was a Shadow Zafara now.
I dried my tears. What was past was past. I could not hide anymore. My nightmares showed that much, at least. I had confronted my past, and I had survived. I knew who I was now. I was Ismera, a Shadow Zafara. I went back to Derren, surprised at how little time had passed. I thought it had been hours, but it was only minutes after I had left him. "Der?" I asked tentatively, using his nickname. "I know who I am now." He turned and looked at me, smiling. "I had faith in you," he said softly, embracing me. "I knew you would get over your past if I showed you the way." I hugged him back, finally releasing the tears I had held back for so long.
And this is that same story, revised to be long enough to actually submit.
If you hide from your past, how do you know who you really are?" Derren asked. He was my best friend, and had been for as long as I remember. He was a Green Kougra, strong, brave, and compassionate. He was many of the things I had been, but was not anymore.
We had been talking about our summer vacations this year, his at Krawk Island, mine at the Lost Desert. All perfectly normal, until he asked me that. It was a reasonable question, especially considering what had happened to me five years ago. I had lost myself then, and I haven't found myself since. Derren walked away, knowing I would need some time to myself.
Five years ago, I had gone to Mystery Island for the summer. Near the end, I had visited Techo Mountain. There, I had lost my sense of self, my confidence, and my color. I, who had been brave, became easily frightened. I had loved the outdoors before then, and now I only go out when it rains, and prefer not to do even that. Darkness had frightened me before that day, and now I use it to my advantage, not scared anymore. That is the only good that came out of it.
I ran from those memories, those days in the jungles of Mystery Island. I hid them away in the deepest parts of my mind, not wanting to remember. I hide from fire and its leavings now. The fire that once warmed me now makes me run in fear.
Derrens parting words ran through my mind, teasing my memory, trying to make me remember. Flashes of fire, ash and burning winds ran through me, bits of memory that I tried to hide. The lava… I tried not to remember that day on Techo Mountain, but I couldn't help it. I was sucked into my nightmares, my memories.
Heat was the first thing I felt when I entered the dreamworld. Searing heat. Blazing heat. It felt hotter than the Lost Desert on the mountainside. The first thing I saw was lava, slowly building up, trying to break out of the caldera, slowly heading towards me. The sky was grey with ash, ash that covered everything in sight, except the lava, which burned it away. The lava was glowing, shedding red light, the only light in this fiery place with a sky was grayed out by ash. I myself had no source of light.
There were no animals or other pets there, as most of them knew what was going to happen. I, however, had always been fascinated by fire, the glowing, ever-changing fire. I could watch fire for hours, studying its endless patterns and shapes. That fascination was my undoing, for I did not notice the hole until it was too late. Of course, I didn't know what was going to happen, and disregarded the warning my guide gave me. I really should've listened to him.
I stared, fascinated by the red-orange magma pouring from the earth, unaware of the rumbling beneath me. The earth was moving, something I realized too late to save myself. I held up a hand, fascinated by the red light of the lava on my fur. It was beautiful. The only thing I had eyes for was the lava. The glowing, writhing lava.
I realized too late that I had come closer too the lava than I should. Too late, I saw the lava breaching the caldera wall. Too late, I started to run. The lava poured through the wall, heading towards me, a thick wall that I could not avoid. I have no wings, as I am a Brown Zafara. I ran, as it was my only choice. The lava slowly gained speed, racing at me. Soon, I ran out of space to run to, finding myself at the edge of a cliff.
I just barely saved myself from falling off the edge then, by falling to the ground. I got up as soon as I could, only to find that the lava was about ten feet away from me. The lava was getting closer, daring me to jump over it, and into the trees below. I jumped, not seeing that the forest was on fire until it was too late. It was my only chance of survival, after all. I jumped over the lava, only to enter the burning forest.
I shook myself out of my nightmare, shivering in fear, wanting to scream, but unable to. I still had the burns from that fateful day. I couldn't hide from the fire anymore. My nightmares showed that much, at least. My once brown fur had turned black, and the memory of how that had happened sucked me back in to the dreamland. I tried to resist, but could not.
I was lucky I didn't hurt myself falling through the trees. It was only ten feet below where I jumped, but there were still plenty of obstacles in my path. I landed in a clearing ringed by trees on fire, and floored by burning grass, out of the proverbial frying pan, and into the very real fire.
Fire surrounded me, cutting me off from escape on all sides. The heat was at least as bad ((getting around the filter, yay)) as near the lava. I couldn't say were I was for long, not with the grass on fire, anyway. There was only one thing I could do and have even a chance of survival. Run through the fire, and hope that I would survive. I ran as fast as I could, but it wasn't fast enough. The fire was too hot. My fur was on fire, and I couldn't put it out. I knew there was a river nearby, and I headed towards it as fast as I could.
I finally found the river and jumped in it, putting out my fur at last. The heat from the fire was intense, even in the water. I could see the volcano erupting, pouring magma out to be turned into first magma, then rock. But what I thought was sanctuary was what changed me, blending the ash with my fur, making me a Shadow Zafara.
I did not know what had happened until I got back home many days later, but when I did, my owner shrieked, not recognizing me. My eyes, once bright blue, had darkened, as had my fur. I was a Shadow Zafara now. Burn scars on my tail and feet turned them to a silvery gray. I didn't recognize myself, refusing to believe that the black and silver figure in the mirror was me. That was when I lost myself to the shadows. I was not a Zafara of shadows, but one of the earth, after all.
The shadows. The hidden places in my mind where I hid the memories of fire and lava away. Shadows had taken over those parts of my mind, bringing nightmares and fear. I could not fight the shadows, as they were part of me. They were my dark side, the part that I do not control. As they took over those memories, they gained some control, showing me the bad parts of what would happen if, for instance, I stood up to a bully, or lit a fire.
I was surprised to find myself crying when I came out of the dream. Fire had frightened me ever since that day, even the flame of a candle. My life had been a lie for five years, and only now have I broken fires hold on me. I am free for the fist time in years. Free to do what I want without fear. The shadows in my soul have left, leaving me free.
I knew myself for what I was then. A Brown Zafara, fire blackened, with silver scars. I dried the tears I didn't even know I cried. What was past was past. I had confronted my past, and I had survived. I knew who I was now. I was Aerna, a Shadow Zafara, transformed in fire, reborn from the ashes of my old self, like a phoenix.
I have passed my trials, first by confronting who I was, and second by confronting who I am. I have died and been reborn. I am like a phoenix now, rising from the ashes, almost literally. I am reentering my life with new eyes, fresh from rebirth.
I went to find Derren, surprised at how little time had passed. I thought it had been hours, but it was only minutes since he left. I found him under a tree, reading. "Der?" I asked tentatively, using his nickname. "You were right. I didn't know who I was. Now I do." He turned and looked at me, smiling. "I had faith in you, Aer," he said softly, his blue fur mingling with my black, embracing me. "I knew you would get over your past if could I just showed you the way." I hugged him back, finally releasing the tears I had held back for so long.
And here, for comparison, is a section of a story I wrote for NaNoWriMo in November 2010. (1.6k words)
It was strange, looking at the houses all around him and knowing that everyone there was different than he. Augustine stopped to watch a lithe gray-and-white cat cross the street, and smiled a little. He felt more like that cat than like the people around him. The cat glanced around a little, making sure it was safe, Augustine supposed, and then sat and settled down to the serious business of grooming. Augustine leaned against a rough-barked tree and contemplated the cat's pale coloring and proud bearing, comparing it mentally to his own. Unassuming and unintentional arrogance, check. Independent attitude, check. Ability to find disconcerting people entertaining, check. Hatred of admitting an action unplanned, check. General pridefulness, check.
So, in every sense that mattered, or every stereotype about feline attitude Augustine could remember, they were kin of the heart and spirit. And also kindred in that neither of them quite belonged in this city. Augustine sighed a little, pushed off the tree, and crossed the street after the cat, approaching it slowly and calmly. The cat looked up, but didn't run. Augustine crouched down and stretched out a hand, letting the cat decide if he – at least, Augustine thought the cat was male, from the size – wanted attention or not. The cat gave a distrustful sniff, then stalked a little closer, allowing Augustine to stroke him gently.
Augustine smiled and shifted so that he sat on the sidewalk. Slowly, he enticed the cat closer, until the pale feline lay next to him, muscled body purring enough to send vibrations through his leg. It was a simple pleasure, finding a cat, and a stronger joy that the cat decided to like him. It made Augustine quite glad that nobody else was really around, for a random person striding down the sidewalks, or a car speeding down the road, would be fair likely to scare the cat off and deprive Augustine of his new friend.
That this cat was likely closer to being his friend than pretty much anyone Augustine had met brought another sigh to his lips, and that cat looked up with questioning green eyes. Augustine laughed, a little, but didn't say anything to the cat. That would just get him marked as even more of a weirdo than he already was, being half-blood and all. He never had quite understood what made the people of Grebes City so xenophobic, even down to the bloodlines – everyone had some outCity blood in them; it was just a matter of how many generations back you went. He suspected that after about three generations of living in the City people wouldn't really care, but that was a cold comfort for him right now.
The problem, see, is that they see my heritage and don't bother looking for me." Augustine blinked a moment later, and then laughed in earnest. The cat tensed a little, and Augustine ruffled his neck. "But you don't care, do you? You think that anyone who'll pay attention to you and treat you like the little wonder you are is a good person." The cat's purring increased, as if he could understand, and the cat rubbed his cheek against Augustine's leg. He smiled a little, oddly comforted by the cat's action, and relaxed back into the hypnotic motions of petting the cat.
The thought that had been occupying him before he spotted the cat floated back to the forefront of his mind. The City saw him as being different, and so he was different. In a strange way, the number of ways they tried to cast him out just made him act all the nicer to them. They didn't like it. He didn't understand exactly why, though he suspected he was, in a way, shaming them by acting like a nicer guy than pretty much anyone else in the area. A shame, really, because people could be so much nicer than they were. Augustine saw people doing beautiful things, little things, all the time, but nobody noticed, nobody cared.
Whereas absolutely everyone cared when someone made a mistake, especially if that person was important in some fashion or other. Fame or infamy; it didn't matter. All that mattered was that the person was known. Then the rumors could spread through the halls until there was no way to avoid hearing about how so-and-so did such-and-such and it had gone so horribly – or hilariously, depending – wrong. Too many of those stories ended up being about him, because apparently he couldn't even do something normal anymore without it being seen as currying favor or insulting someone or some other such strangeness that wasn't usually the intent.
It seemed, honestly, more like a reflection of what people thought would be motivating their actions – or that of their stereotyped teenager ideal – instead of what they thought would actually be present in the actual person's head. Augustine scratched the cat's head meditatively. It wasn't like he didn't do that – it was near-impossible not to. You just couldn't know everyone well enough to judge their actions truly, so you had to make assumptions. You had to guess. But really, you could guess so much better, more strongly, more kindly, than most people seemed ever to want to.
The combined weight of all the stories he heard, especially those about him, was slowly breaking his faith in humanity's essential goodness. He tried to keep it. He really did. But how could you truly believe in such things, when the populace of a city all snuck around and whispered in ears, snitching everything out to everyone if they could see some advantage in it for them. The truly good people – those had to exist, but Augustine hadn't seen any of them yet. Not among the students, at least. His mother was wonderful. Some of her coworkers, too – they genuinely cared about the people and businesses they took care of.
But the students? They disgusted him. They called the Streetwalkers rats, but they were hardly better. At least the Streetwalkers were honest in their distrust and open in their deceit, strange as that sounded. Here... he sighed. Here, he was lucky to get a straight answer for a perfectly innocuous question. A lucky day might bring him a helpful, if sideways, response, while an unlucky day would just give him something irritatingly rude. Augustine shook his head, sending black curls bobbing into his face. He brushed them aside again impatiently, and the cat meowed at the jostling.
Augustine looked down at the cat and made a face, suddenly disgusted with himself. "Go on, cat," he said, more sharply than he intended. "Don't you have some family to be with? Someone who loves you and takes care of you?" Augustine stood, shocking the cat into darting movement towards one of the faceless houses along the street. Augustine stood there, looking at the bush it disappeared into, for a long while, hands clenched. Then he turned, and let out his breath in a harsh puff of air, and began to walk down the street again. He had been heading home. May as well finish the journey before his mother got home. Wouldn't want her to worry, after all.
He slouched as he walked, and shoved his hands into his pockets. She had enough to worry about without him adding to her list. He could take care of himself and the house – apartment, really – so long as she made sure they had enough money to pay for everything. It worked out. It just worked out more like an arrangement between husband and wife – one works, one takes care of hearth and home – than the one normally experienced by mother and son. He didn't mind, exactly; he hadn't known anything else to compare this to, so how could he mind? He just wished he could have more time with her where one or both of them weren't busy or exhausted.
Unlikely to happen, with her rigorous work schedule and his schoolwork. He walked up the stairs to their apartment with more force than strictly necessary, but unlocked the door with the same careful precision as always. Inside, the apartment was as bare as ever, and Augustine made a face at the mirror opposite the door as he stepped inside. Then he turned and locked the door again before setting about his afternoon ritual of making sure they had enough food to last until the next time he might have a chance to get food, glancing over the mail to see if anything truly important had come, and the assorted other daily chores that made sure the place didn't fall apart.
Only after that did Augustine retreat into the bedroom for the joy of homework, letting his mind sink into the textbooks and worksheets with the sort of single-minded focus that either led people to praise him or be driven crazy by him. He found it more useful than anything else, so long as he had made sure that he had the time and space to focus properly. It was never any fun to be interrupted when in the middle of such a strong focus-lock. Mostly because the methods used to break his focus were no fun, but still.
He heard it when his mother got home, and when she pulled leftovers out of the fridge for her early dinner. He didn't get up to greet her until he'd finished a particularly difficult problem set, but, as usual, she didn't seem to notice the delay. "Hey, mom," Augustine said to her, heading to the fridge to get his own food. "How was your day?"
."The usual," she said after swallowing. "A few rough calls, a few stupid errors, but a lot of good work done."
Augustine heard the pride in her voice and smiled. He didn't say anything, instead pulling out some cold noodles and chicken that tasted decent unheated. He didn't feel like taking the time to make warm food; his stomach had finally woken up to that he hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast save an apple.
His mom continued talking after a moment. "How's school going, August? Aren't midterms coming up soon?"
."We're in the middle of them right now, actually." Augustine shrugged and scooped his food into a bowl. "It's not too bad. Same stuff we've been doing all this year, with a bit of stuff from last year, probably to see if we remembered it." He stuck the leftovers back in the fridge and joined his mom at the table, food and fork in hand. "And before you ask, people are still people, I still get bullied, and I'm not expecting that to change." He recited the words in a dull monotone, tired of hearing the questions asked again and again.
She looked down at her food and didn't say anything. The room descended into silence as they both ate, the food covering the eternal silence brought about by two overworked people who knew each other well exchanging pleasantries that weren't so pleasant. It really should, Augustine thought sadly, feel worse than it did. But no. It just felt normal. A numbness of the mind and heart. He winced and said, "Sorry."
."For my tone." He poked at his food, not looking up at her. "School's getting to me, I guess. I... I should make more of an effort to be better than them, especially here, but it's hard."
She reached across the table and laid a hand on his. "Sweet, I know. It's fine. It'll be better after midterms."
Augustine laughed and looked up at her smile. "Thanks, mom." He returned the smile and returned to his meal, leaving their hands intertwined on the table, a connection and mark of faith of each in the other that kept his faith in humanity somehow alive.
NEOPETS, characters, logos, names and all related indicia
are trademarks of Neopets, Inc., © 1999-2013.
® denotes Reg. US Pat. & TM Office. All rights reserved.
Use of this site signifies your acceptance of the Terms and Conditions