Story (unfinished): She Hangs in the Balance

7:40 am shadow monsters, unfinished

I wrote this story in college, and I’m really not sure how to finish it, and whether it needs more than is here.

Not sure what else to add as introduction, so I’ll post the story behind the cut.

She Hangs in the Balance

Irene lit the candle and put on her headphones. It got harder to sleep every night. She sat cross-legged on her bed and closed her eyes, willing the music to carry her away. She watched the candle flickering through her eyelids, took a breath, and reached for calmness. The argument with her mother left reluctantly, with a nagging, warning pause. Irene’s head tingled as she let her mind float further away from her life. Waves of energy passed through her, and pressed her body to the bed. Then it came. She saw the grey landscape in front of her, and made her way to an ocean shore. The dim blocky buildings stood randomly, almost as though someone had accidentally dropped them, and left them behind.

Irene’s mind flowed. She wandered between the buildings until she felt a calm reach her stomach. Her head felt oddly tight, and she knew she was nearly finished. A tingling sensation in her middle slowly brought back awareness of the stereo, and the blankets beneath her. The candle flickered, and she leaned to blow it out.

Shamus walked through the seacoast ruins known as the City of the Goddess. The rains had not come this fall, and the lands were parched. The year before, the rains would not leave, and the fields had drowned. People whispered that the Goddess had left them to wander, that she might never return. Shamus frowned.

“Primitives,” he muttered angrily, and glared into the winds. He picked up a piece of driftwood, and bashed it against a stone wall, punishing it for its difference from the bustling streets and towers of his homeland. “In two years and three months, I can escape this place and live somewhere with irrigation and educated citizens again.” Shamus squinted towards the village through the dusk, and began to trudge home.

“They don’t even know how to light their own village. How could they forget how to build cities?” Shamus muttered to himself, venting his frustration before he reached home. His parents would not let him say anything critical of the villagers in their presence. “As though there were anything I could learn from people like this!” He hurled the remains of the stick into the ocean.

“Hey, Dreamer.”

Irene looked up from her lunch. “Hi, Shanna.” She pulled her books to her side, making room for her friend. They sat close together, so they wouldn’t need to shout over the lunchroom noise.

“You look tired. Stay up late doing your homework?”

Irene snorted. “Nah. No need, when I can do it all at lunch before I go home.” She looked down at her lunch. “I just have trouble sleeping, sometimes. Insomnia.”

“Have you tried meditating?”

“Yeah, but it just gives me weird dreams, anymore.”

“What sort of weird dreams?” This wasn’t a part of their usual discussion.

Irene paused. “Well, I have really vivid dreams. I made up a city that I go to when I meditate, and I seem to dream about it a lot. And last night, there was this guy in my dream, and he kept muttering, and hitting everything with a huge stick. It was a little nerve-wracking. I like that city, and here he is, beating it up.”

“Sounds like a real jerk.” Shanna sounded uncomfortable. “So, did you finish that English paper?”

“Shit. I knew I would forget something.”

Shamus crested the final hill, and dropped his pack in dismay. A group of twenty villagers was circled in front of the largest building, watching the priest begin some ritual. “They never come to the ruins!” He sat down, frustrated. “Never! But now, when I leave the village to get away from their incessant praying, they’re here.”

Shamus circled the group, staying out of sight. He had come hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman he sometimes saw wandering the city. There were barely two hundred people in the village, but he didn’t recognize her. Maybe if she liked to wander the ruins, she would be someone he could talk to. But she must also like solitude, if she came to the ruins alone. How could he find her, if the villagers filled the city with their chanting?

“Oh, Goddess, we have strayed from your ways.” The villagers repeated the priest’s moans. Shamus scowled, and picked up his bag. He stalked to the nearest opening of the sea wall. His parents had been reluctant to let him stay in the villagers’ sacred, haunted, city alone overnight. If he went home, they were unlikely to let him come back again.

Shamus slid his bag from his back, and began to beat it against the wall. “Stupid,” he muttered. “Provincial. Idiotic. Peasants.” With each syllable, he smashed the bag against the wall.

“Irene!” The shrill voice went through the protective layers of music, and straight to Irene’s ears. She sighed, and stood to open the door. It was yanked out of her hand. Her mother stood over her. “This is the fifth time I’ve called you. Why haven’t you done the dishes yet? Or started dinner?”

Irene knew better than to answer. The best way to survive her mother’s anger was to live through it. It didn’t matter that it was Jake’s turn to wash the dishes and start dinner. It didn’t matter that Irene was doing schoolwork. Irene hurried to the kitchen, keeping her head down, to avoid her mother’s gaze. “I’m sorry,” Irene whispered. Sometimes, acting small would appease her. Maybe it did, because her mother smacked her ear once, and then let her go into the kitchen.

The sink filled, and Irene was up to her elbows in suds when the tingling started in her head again, like she was meditating. She nearly laughed at the thought of being calm with her mother standing over her, ready to break any dish that wasn’t clean enough, ready to beat Irene to move faster.

“I’m not going.” Shamus stood like a rock in the corner of the front room.

“This is a major ceremony for the villagers,” his father remonstrated, “and it would be an act of good faith for the Empire to show its presence.”

“And it won’t hurt to add our prayers to whatever deity they’re praying to,” his mother added.

“But it’s a pointless waste of time,” Shamus exploded, “It’s going to make the villagers think we approve.”

“What would you be doing otherwise?” his father asked, frustrated.

“I don’t see why you can’t go out there with us,” his mother added. “You spend all your free time sulking in those ruins as it is.”

Shamus’ jaw set stubbornly, but he looked at his parents and said, “I’ll go.”

“Irene! What is wrong with you? This is the fourth time I’ve said your name.”

Irene blinked vaguely, and half-recognized Shanna’s face across the table from her. She shook her head, trying to relieve the tingling that would not go away. Dim shapes moved among the tables, and she could hear the rush of waves in the distance.

“Are you okay?” Shanna’s voice grew concerned. She leaned closer, and peered at Irene’s face.

“I feel a little weird,” Irene admitted. “But if I can make it through the next two classes, I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Do I have a choice?” Irene couldn’t go home, even if she was going totally insane. Her mother had called in sick to work after drinking all night. Her mother was never safe to be near when she was drinking. School was better. Shanna should know that, by now.

Shanna didn’t look relieved enough, so Irene added, “I didn’t get much sleep last night. Jake was out all night with his friends, and my mom kept me up.”

“Your brother is going wild.” Shanna sounded half-approving.

“Yeah, well, someone has to.”

Shamus watched the entire town fall into place behind the priest. He stood back, flinching at the slightest touch of the uncouth townspeople. Why had he agreed to come to this ritual?

He fell behind as they neared the city, wondering whether he should turn around and leave. He blew irritably through his nose, and followed the people into the ruins. Stones crumbled to either side, and Shamus wondered how such ignorant people could have created a city so lasting.

Shamus felt the muscles along his neck tighten with frustration as the priest resumed his droning. The Goddess was unlikely to listen to the whining of peasants, even if she did exist. Shamus turned impatiently, and walked down the fading streets.

There, at the end of an alleyway, he caught a glimpse of trailing hair and skirts. But no, it was a trick of the light, since the alley had no outlet, and there was nothing there when he went to the end of it.

“You’d be doing better if you thought about more cheerful things,” Shanna suggested irritably.

Irene looked up from her lunch, and picked Shanna’s face out from among the ghost buildings. “What do you mean by that?”

“Just what I said. Even when you meditate, you go to a bleak grey ruin, with no plants or sun. What’s wrong with you?”

Shanna’s words hit Irene like a smack from her mother. “I can’t control it,” Irene said, feeling helpless. Would even Shanna desert her?

“It’s your dream, Irene. Try making the sun shine. Why not take charge?” Shanna looked at her, and left the table.

Irene fought down the panic that rose in her chest. She couldn’t stop the buildings, and had more and more trouble even making them dim enough to see the real world. And voices had begun to chant incessantly. Irene knew, with a sick feeling, that she really was going crazy. She had stopped meditating a week ago, but reality kept getting dimmer.

Shamus rounded another corner, and stopped short. A shaft of sunlight broke through the constant grey of the city, and paused briefly on a mist of green near a doorstep. He hurried to examine the light, forgetting for a moment why it so astounded him. But the light vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

Shamus stood on the doorstep, absently twirling a new leaf between his fingers. He hadn’t seen the sun in the city. Ever. Even when the sun burned relentlessly on the fields, the city was always dim. Stifling and dim in the summers, icy and bleak in the winters. But the sun had shone on this doorstep. Sounds of chanting reached Shamus’ ears, and he returned to the street.

One Response
  1. Wendy :

    Date: May 20, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

    I kind of LIKE how it ends!

    I think it’s a great story. I don’t think it needs anything else.

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