Monday, December 3, 2012

Short Story: Soren Gray

I'm very happy to put up a short story by none other than my friend Stac Mahuna-Brantner!  (That's her blog there in the link).  She wrote this short piece for The Burning West,  Facebook group that appears to encourage the creating of short stories centering around a common theme:

Civilization has fallen. Our world has become a brutal wasteland of corruption, death, and victory. Imagine yourself in a different time, a different place, and carrying a savage weapon.

The setting: America, the future. After monetary ruin and political degradation, the world has descended into a dark and global war. The Skulls, a monstrous faction of militant psychopaths rule the Northern and Western parts of the globe. The Southern and Eastern philosophies are upheld by The Shadow Engineers, a righteous sect of honor. These opposing forces battle endlessly for global control amid a strange new world filled with assassins, mutated beasts, twisted shaman, religious zealots, thieves, sirens, vigilante heroes, and soldiers who become kings.

Your job is to re-imagine yourself. Are you Skull or Shadow Engineer? Or are you something worse? Something elusive or legendary? Describe your costume. Choose your weapons. Mold your backstory. 
Enticing!  Anyway, without further ado, here's her story: Soren Gray.

I once found a book from Before. The faded ink made lazy scrawls across the tattered page, regaling the childish fantasies of a fourteen year old girl named Tara. Boys, make-up, clothes…was this what girls back then used to think about? I remember running my hands over the matted corduroy cover almost lovingly before hastily stashing it in my pack.
I don’t know why I kept it. I look at it now and it makes me angry, but some part of me can’t bear to throw it away.
I know I might seem strange to your eyes and for that I apologize. I can only pray that this letter reaches eyes that have no concept of the suffering I have seen, the kind that makes fourteen-year-old girls grow up so quickly.
I run a restaurant with my grandfather and my partner, Jen. When the war came, silly things like careers got thrown out the window. It seemed stupid to save for college when Stanford was nothing but a charred husk. On the bright side, homophobia seems to be a thing of the past. I guess losing everything had a way of putting things into perspective for people. “Us or them” takes a different tone when there’s less of us and way more of them.
       I helped Jack, my grandfather, run the restaurant before Them. It was his life’s work. After the Burning and the Great Rebuilding, it became an obsession for him, the last relic of his old life. He will die in that place, for it if he must. It is his wife now.
     But enough about that. I suppose I should tell you what I look like. Once upon a time I was pretty, or so people said. Three years ago, I was sixteen, a child with unruly dark curls and wide brown eyes. My mother used to say my skin was the color of chocolate.  I remember most distinctly my feet, oddly enough. Calloused and graceful, but always dirty, I was forever running around outside in summer and getting into trouble. The curls are still dark, but now pulled back into a tight bun. I don’t go barefoot anymore. Too much glass on the road. Besides, global weather change gave us the short end of the straw, and it’s never warm enough to go without thick warm socks and boots. My eyes are wary and guarded, usually hiding behind a pair of dented sunglasses. I smoke when I can, Newports if they’re around. I know, you’re probably wondering how I can get them when life is the way it is. All I can say is that Jack’s customers aren’t rich in cash but they’re good about supplying other things.
      I met Jen in a trip down to the coast. That was back when the war first started, when the chemical bombs first dropped and society was tripping over itself to get as far out of range as it could. She worked in one of the area hospitals as an LPN. She is nothing like me. Where I’m aggressive and not the best with words, she’s eloquent and kind, all ready to say the perfect thing at the perfect time. She is much taller than me, with crazy curly red hair and these piercing green eyes. Still not sure what she’s doing with somebody like me. We have been together for about a year now, and although we don’t always see eye-to-eye, I don’t know what I’d do without her.
     I live in one of the last thriving ports of humanity left in the former States, in what used to be Portland. The Eastern Seaboard is nothing more than a glorified bunker for the Skulls, while other big cities without resources, like Albuquerque, simply died out. You don’t see too many cities still standing anymore. Portland, for one reason or another, survived pretty much intact. Many people said it was because we were on the fringe of the blast radius, but in reality I think it’s because we were simply ignored. We aren’t LA or Seattle, both of which got hit pretty heavy. Not to say the Skulls couldn’t knock our city flat if they wanted to. Even as the bricks were restacked and new paint was slapped on the walls, we all knew it would be gone in a second if we misbehaved.
     We are the city that has learned to be painfully diplomatic, a group of people that, against all odds, has survived the Skulls’ onslaught and the Shadow Engineer's border skirmishes. We have survived our wells being poisoned and our crops being burnt. Even the youngest child doesn’t leave their dwelling unarmed, doesn’t leave without that packet of dry crystals to be swallowed in case of capture. If there is one truth around here, it’s this: the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. We’ve learned to keep our heads down, and pray that when the ashes settle and everyone has finished slaughtering each other, that we’re still standing.
     God help us.

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