This week Writer’s Wednesday takes a slightly different form. I’ve entered a writing contest and was recently notified that I was a semi-finalist!
If you are a fan of my blog and my writing, I would ask you to please consider voting for my story, The Iris City by Autumn Brutyn. You can do this by visiting writemichigan.org –) Short Story Contest –) Teen (12-17) –) my story. To vote you have to make a Submittable account with just a few quick steps.
A new Writer’s Wednesday is in the works for the Elemental series also. Thank you for your support! (:
Revenge. The Midnight Rogue thrashed desperately in the trunk, walls of black all around. Pressing down, squeezing in, cutting off her air as efficiently as a sinner’s final wheezing breath. Chloroform dragged her down into the murky gray, into a haze of memory that swirled her back to her original self. An outer borough daughter, friend, student. A girl broken by tragedy. The darkness folded around her. The Midnight Rogue was whisked away into the past……
“Paisley!” A flash of blond hair glinted under the strobe lights and the girl bounded off after it, bumping into strangers and giggling apologies. “Paisley! Wait up!” Miranda called, voice engulfed in the din of clacking heels and throbbing bass. She felt a hand on her arm and tensed immediately, whirling against the grip. A man.
No…a boy? Not much taller than her, sporting a casual outfit, messy hair– Miranda laughed, taking in the blurry face. This wasn’t a stranger! She looped her arm through his and yelled over the pulse of the club,
“Ben! I thought you weren’t going home yet!” He stopped her, grabbing both her hands as she teetered dangerously. Bursting with a loud hiccup, Miranda wavered on her heels, eyes straining to focus on the face. Ben’s face.
Ben? I thought he wasn’t going home yet!
His thin yet athletic build glowed under the strobe. Tense shoulders. Strong shoulders. The shoulders of her best friend’s brother.
She wasn’t quite sure why she latched her hands to them, but she did. Satisfied with how she stood, in a crude slow-dance stance and wobbling on her heels, she was able to focus on his eyes.
“I was going to stay, but I thought maybe I should walk you home!” he yelled, voice barely audible as the song pounded into another deep-bass chorus. Miranda knit her brows. Now why would he do that? I have a knife at my thigh, after all. I can defend myself…
“Miranda!” The dark-haired girl swiveled her head, vision going blurry for a moment. A squeal tore the air. The girls leapt into each other’s arms in a massive bear hug.
“Paisley, I missed you!”
“I was only gone for a second–”
“A second too long!” They burst into laughter; Ben stood off to the side, watching the scene unfold with amusement and disbelief. The lights lit up their hair, clinging onto each other like an onyx gem fused with gold. Paisley Renee, Ben’s sister, slightly taller and with hair like the sun beaming down on a meadow. It was a strange contrast to the raven-black of Miranda’s. A good contrast, he thought. He strode forward.
Gently breaking them apart, he held an arm out to each girl, which they each took gratefully. Even in their stupor, they seemed to know they would need it to get out the door.
The club was alive with people. The stumbling and sweating mass whirled across the floor, breaths heavy with the stink of liquor, baking under the heat of the flashing lights.
When they finally burst through into the night air, it felt like a winter day after being cooped up inside. Miranda’s face lit up at the coolness, coming alive with the sting of the breeze against her cheeks. Some of the cloudiness dissipated then, a bright silver moon illuminating both the sidewalk and her mind in one graceful beam.
Rejuvenated, she shrugged her arm from Ben’s and gazed around. It was late, late enough that the world was asleep. Gushing night wind held a biting chill that felt prickly on her tongue. “Miranda, can you hold on a sec? Paisley has to fix her heel,” Ben called. Miranda nodded absentmindedly, hearing the words for a moment before letting them slip away under the alcohol. Ambling a few feet past the exit, she stopped in her tracks. What a beautiful song, she thought, looking up at the wall.
Scrawled in concrete were a cluster of words. Stepping closer to examine it, Miranda realized that this was not a song at all, but a poem of sorts. Glancing back at Ben and Paisley, she saw they were still there, methodically tinkering with the beige heel for no obvious reason.
Content with their closeness, Miranda began to read aloud to herself, drawing the leather jacket closer around her shoulders.
“Beware! Those pleasures of humanity
For when the time of need arises
The angels will deem them sins.
Justice will not come on drunken, senseless wings
Justice will not come when the fallen addict sings.
Protect those who are innocent
Stand with the fierce and the bold.
Trust the passage of time when you feel yourself grow old.
Those who cheat the game
And burn with pleasure’s wicked claim
Will feel the world’s pitiless wrath
Blaze over them with shame.”
Something in those words chilled her to her core. Like they were speaking just to her. Preaching to her. Looking at her, knowing her, seeingher as she stood there, euphoric from a night of dancing and drinks. Very suddenly, Miranda wanted to go home. Or home as she thought of it: an abstract idea, anyplace where she was warm and alone and felt the knot in her chest uncoil. She wanted to go home now.
Just as she began to step away, a hand clamped down on her shoulder. “Ben?” She turned to see a hulking figure towering above her. Goosebumps swept over her skin, rippling down her bare arms up the thin straps of her dress. This was not Ben, with his lean figure and boyish features. This was something scary. Threatening.
The hand shoved her back against the wall, pinning her without effort.
“Hey, sweetheart. How about we get out of here?” the man breathed. His breath was putrid, hot and stinking of alcohol as it beat down on her flushed cheeks. Miranda squealed and struggled, raking her nails down his arm. Thrashing fruitlessly against the hand that pinned her to the stone.
“I don’t want to go. Please…I’m not interested!” she begged. But he didn’t draw away. His lips curled back, revealing an array of crooked yellow teeth. The smell of spoiled liquor intensified.
Looming over her like a vulture, he pushed her left shoulder even harder to the concrete; she could feel each little imperfection in the stone digging against bone and tenderizing her skin.
With his free hand he traced a line along her collarbone where the dress neckline curved. Miranda wanted to molt out of her body. She wanted to disappear, melt back into the concrete and be one with the prophecy of the wall. Wasn’t that what she did best? Disappear?
Suddenly the pressure was gone from her shoulder. A flash of caramel eyes, golden hair, freckles. Miranda wavered, still feeling the phantom touch of meaty fingers on her collarbone.
It was a flurry of motion. One form bled into another–Ben’s light brown hair, Paisley’s olive skin, the frothing red mound of a man. Fumbling for the knife strapped to her thigh, she drew the blade and held it aloft in the moonlight. Silvery, shiny, warped from her intoxication and adrenaline.
But in the grappling brawl there was no clear target. Tears blurred her vision. The blade was useless in her inept hands, staring at a tangle of friend and foe.
At once the forms separated long enough for Miranda to raise her knife. The drunkard charged forward, fists looming, and she thrust the silver deep into his shoulder. And with a bellowing roar he struck her down.
Concrete. Dizziness lightened her head. She became a heap of white skin and black hair, crumpled uselessly on the ground. The next sounds she heard were that of defiant words, Paisley screaming.
Then the sidewalk was overflowing.
Crimson, sticky, spilling, everywhere.
Somehow she fought, somehow she moved, pulled herself forth to the broken figure on the road. It all crashed down, images and sounds whooshing through the pain.
Miranda’s fingers knotting in Paisley’s golden hair. Her throat ripping screams. Ben crying out for help, help that would never come. Light leaving bright caramel eyes. Miranda’s heart draining humanity, draining benevolence, draining mercy.
It all melted away until the only things left were solid: her best friend lying dead in her arms, the cold lump throbbing weakly in her chest, the awful words clambering up her throat. Finally she managed to say them. Softly, despairingly; completely and utterly without hope.
“Ben. It’s no use.”
His shouts choked off hoarsely. Defeated, he slumped over his sister’s unbreathing chest, heart shattering in those tawny eyes.
“Paisley’s dead,” she whispered, “she’s dead, Ben. And it’s all my fault.” He didn’t correct her. Wouldn’t have even if she was wrong.
That wasn’t his job, to console her, wipe her tears. His job was to mourn, to grieve, to wallow. His sister was dead; no one could help, and no one would even if they could. In this disgusting cesspool, what doctor would bother with an injured young girl? What passerby would pause to save a life? Not a single one.
Not a single one.
Miranda glanced up at the words on the wall, those which she had mistaken for a song–they were splattered with fresh blood now–and back to the most exuberant bundle of starlight and sunshine, newly dead. Skin still warm, eyes dark as twilight. Dim as dismal rain after a long, blissful summer.
Ben’s job may have been to grieve. But hers wasn’t.
Her job wasn’t to mourn, or cry, or say goodbye.
Her job was to hunt down the man who clobbered sweet Paisley Renee to death without a second thought. She would meld with the darkness. Blend into shadow. Become vengeance incarnate…and then, only then, could she do what needed to be done.
Screaming. Slandering. It ranges from snide remarks shot with a sneer to not-so-sneaky professions of black-and-white opinion. Nonetheless, every side staunching human progress and treading water, circulating through the same endless debates like a tug-of-war game going nowhere fast: You’re wrong! I’m right!
This is true, this is false, this is what I believe and anything you say otherwise is invalid.
We see it everywhere nowadays: in the comment sections of Youtube videos and Facebook posts, in the news, in the halls of our schools, offices, and homes. Thus, the question is raised– why are people so rude to each other?
Instead of wondering idly for a moment and abandoning the thought with a shrug–”that’s just the way it is sometimes”–I decided to dive deeper into the concept. What does make people jump at each other’s throats? Is it just a few people hardwired with negativity or cattiness? Or is it something deeper…something biological?
Though perhaps I can’t crack the case, I can investigate. If you’ve ever wondered this same thing when faced with pointless feuds or cruel words, read on. Let’s investigate three of the main negative actions we see in today’s world.
Never budging on an opinion
In today’s world–especially in the weeks to months approaching Election Day–we are bombarded with infinite arguments and animosity between supporters of differing laws, candidates, beliefs, political parties, and more.
But in my experience, what escalates these debates and distorts them into malicious fights is the human nature of never budging on an opinion. Throw facts into the arena. Reason. Morality. And it still doesn’t matter sometimes…people just keep arguing!
What causes this? One of the main catalysts is a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.” What is this? According to The New Yorker, confirmation bias is “the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them” (Kolbert). After forming an initial opinion, it is human nature to stick with this opinion, even when faced with conflicting evidence.
Haven’t you felt it too? You consider swaying your opinion on a subject but you’ve already rooted yourself too firmly. Doubling down against mounting reason to cling to your ego with both hands… an argument that would seem logical if you hadn’t taken a stance now seems absurd or irrelevant. Defensiveness turns to aggression. Screaming. Yelling. Shame, if you know you were wrong. Twisted pride if it turns out you were right.
We can’t fully blame people for ignoring evidence and rejecting certain information. Confirmation bias, as stated in Encyclopedia Britannica, is “largely unintentional” and may just be a way for the human brain to process information more efficiently (Casad).
With so much input–facts, figures, words, propaganda, reason, data–zooming in from every perspective, our brain doesn’t have the time or energy to process each piece of information from an unbiased standpoint. Ignoring or dismissing evidence that is conflicting to our initial viewpoint could just be a psychological, instinct-driven method to quickly sort through the flood of input (Casad). This is a mental reflex that evolved from the need to make choices on the fly and evaluate facts in our environment.
From another scientific viewpoint, this phenomenon could be a way for people to shield their ego and boost self-esteem (Casad). Admitting you are wrong in an argument can be embarrassing or shameful, even more so the harder you dig your heels in.
Based on the theory of confirmation bias, the human desire to feel superior to others or better about themselves, and many other deeply ingrained factors, perhaps “never budging on an opinion” isn’t always done with malicious intent. Sometimes stubbornness truly is human nature!
However, confirmation bias and psychological factors don’t justify repetitive arguments or making ill-fated decisions to protect pride. Though it can be an explanation, it doesn’t excuse the behavior, just like how a lawyer saying “people have a natural tendency towards greed” wouldn’t pardon a bank-robber. So what can we do?
We can fight this by encouraging open-mindedness in debates and learning critical-thinking skills. Before entering into a heated debate, consider the already-formed opinions of yourself and the people around you and how that might influence the dialogue exchanged. Try to gather information from a variety of sources–you wouldn’t write a college essay about how oil drilling is good, then cite “Premium Oil Co.” as your only source, would you?
Spreading rumors and false information
Rumor-mongering is especially prominent around Election Day here in America, but it is also something we see daily. On Facebook, posts about which foods to feed your dogs, “life hacks” on Youtube that don’t actually work, trolls online literally telling you to microwave a spoon if your ice cream won’t scoop (Please DO NOT microwave a spoon!).
Slander and misinformation are harmful, but more often than not, lies spread faster than the truth. The Washington Post article “We finally know for sure that lies spread faster than truth. This might be why” explains that a reason for this is that fake stories often have more novelty, drama, or are more entertaining than reality (McArdle). In real life, stories are not as clear cut or exciting, with 100% evil villains or completely innocent victims, which makes fabricated statements more compelling and “shareable.”
Let’s take this as an example. A study finds that a brand of dog food has been linked to cancer or premature death in 3 out of 1000 dogs. Two articles are published to Facebook on the topic. One is titled: “Dog Food Co. Kibble May Be Linked to Cancer in Some Pets, Studies Show, Among Other Factors.” The other is titled: “Dog Food Co. Kibble Is Killing Your Pets–Why You Should Stop Feeding It To Them NOW.” Which do you think will spread faster? The second headline, without fail. The title is falsely exaggerated to the point of clickbait–in the study only 0.3% of dogs experienced cancer, which may or may not be related to the food–but the shock value and novelty will spread this post like wildfire.
You cannot blame people if they genuinely did not know the information they spread was false. Ignorance is not excusable in general, but in examples like the one above, you can assume that the “facts” were shared out of genuine concern with positive intentions.
However, it is the same rumor-mongering that will quickly morph to slander in the political and social world. Negative campaigning is said to be more effective than positive messages as an election tactic, and public figures will often use this to their advantage.
When people intentionally spread lies it can be for social gain, to solicit attention from others, or out of revenge for some misdeed they perceive.
Some things we can do to combat the spread of slander and misinformation are to check our sources, whether they are online, in writing, or word of mouth. You should always look for credible sources.
Has this person been biased by something? Have they been trustworthy in the past?
Does this website look professional? Does the author have any expertise or education in the field? Does the information seem too crazy or too good to be true?
Communication is key in today’s world, now more than ever.
If you’ve ever dove down the rabbit hole called the comment section on a celebrity post or Youtube video, or walked through the crowd when someone is performing or presenting, you’ve seen this with your own eyes. Heard it time and time again.
Criticism. Blindly hateful–all out assaults on character traits. Assails on flaws. Snooty remarks for no reason other than…nothing. Hate for no reason but to be hateful.
Why do people judge others so intensely?
Science shows that our brains are programmed to make snap judgements about people and things as a method for mental efficiency (Hall). Think about it… could you imagine if you had to carefully analyze every single action of a celebrity on the news or a person you pass on the street? Just like with confirmation bias, judging others can be a mechanism to avoid overloading our minds while we focus on more important things.
But judgements aren’t always a bad thing. Where the true malicious spirit of criticism arises is in a type of judgement called “personality attributions.” Personality attributions are when we consider a person’s behavior to reflect their personality as a whole and not just their current situation (Hall).
For example, say I was watching a Youtube video and the person on screen momentarily ignored their hungry pet to talk to their friend. Immediately, my mind could make the personality attributions that this person is self-centered, uncompassionate, or didn’t care about their pet. Spewing this all over the comments sparks further criticism–his clothes are ugly too. Her hair is so greasy! That dog is a mongrel anyway! Or going as far as to write, someone should call the police for animal neglect!
But if instead I had made a situational attribution, considering the events or factors that may have inspired the person’s behavior (Hall), this firestorm could have been avoided. Maybe the Youtuber was stressed and overloaded with work. Maybe their dog is on a diet and begs for food constantly. Perhaps the friend was having a difficult time and the person was attending to their needs first to comfort them, and the dog was fed immediately after filming.
Studies have shown that when judging someone we don’t know very well, we are more likely to make personality attributions than situational ones. However, the opposite is true for loved ones or friends, from whom we may dismiss a hurtful word as stress or exertion…but the same hurtful word from a stranger would signal to us that they are a callous, rude person (Hall).
Making snap-judgements and spreading criticism may be instantaneous, like attributions. But when criticisms are thought-out or published truly with intent to harm, there can be many factors. Someone could be trying to boost their own reputation by withering another’s, as you will often see in campaign ads. Someone could be acting out of envy, criticizing a feature that they privately covet, or hoping to make the other person seem inferior in any way possible: she’s pretty, but she’s probably failing all her classes. That boy is good at everything, he probably practices all the time… he should get a life!
I myself am guilty of all of these judgements, especially ones out of envy. When a person seems too perfect, it is our egotistical nature to want to knock them down a notch to make ourselves feel better. So if personality attributions, self-esteem and ego issues, and the desire for political/social success are influencing these criticisms, what can we do to staunch the hate?
First of all, we can make an effort to be aware of our attributions (Hall). By attempting to make more situational attributions, our empathy for others grows and we can understand what other people are going through at home, at work, or in life.
As for judgements made from jealousy, it is increasingly difficult to avoid nowadays with social media. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat are all bursting with the highlights in other people’s worlds, them presenting themselves in the best light possible. If you want to learn more about how to combat this, visit my other article, Envy–Why we feel it, how to get rid of it. Try thinking about yourself not as in competition with others, but on the same grand team.
If you see a beautiful girl on social media, rather than comparing yourself to her, lift her up with a compliment.
If someone is faster or smarter than you, do your best to encourage them to grow and succeed–they will most likely return the favor. If you believe that all of humanity is striving towards greatness together, you can feel good about lifting others up and improving yourself along the way. Driving progress for all.
Why are people so rude to each other? Why do we say awful things, do awful things? Why do people never budge on an opinion? Criticize others? Spread lies and rumors? I hope my research has helped answer a few of these questions to some degree.
In the end, don’t get too frustrated. As humans, some of these behaviors are picked up from our environment, ingrained in psychological and physical evolution, or just staples of personality. Keep focus on the positive nature of humanity also. We can’t rely on everyone being polite or perfect or even good…but we can work to better ourselves and our world. Together. One step at a time.
Class begins with droopy eyes
A premonition of bleak surprise--
A day like the one before
Words etched in bold chalk letter
Tighten the fetter
Students, uncaring as a crotchety old debtor--
Yawn and feign interest for life
The lecture sets forth with little preamble
An angst-dashed scramble
But one spark catches like wildfire to a bramble--
She raises her head from the desk
Terms that mean nothing begin to ignite
Molten and bright
Phrases smolder, flash like a floodlight--
Peppery heat fills her chest
Fingers extend from an aching fist
A bewildering twist
Torches blazing through the frosty mist--
Passion beckoned forth from the soul
Cached away in a drab, dusty room
Hidden from her world by a festering gloom--
Urges her on through the fog
Erudition in a dose like a drug
Heart thundering like current in an active spark plug--
She wrenches her calling from the chalk
Students snore through the lesson then leave
But she hangs suspended without reprieve--
She has found the ultimate raison d’être
Interest piqued like never before,
Spiral and soar! ;
One concept that brings her potential ashore--
A buzz she will chase for the rest of her life
It’s such a strange concept to ponder
Yet when my thoughts do wander
I often find myself thinking
Of the lives of those from yonder
Through time and space my mind does leap
Through valleys and mountains in an arcing sweep
And I think of my ancestors
Back in the past, through years so long and deep
I see through their eyes
I see what they have seen, I fantasize
That all these visions in my head
Aren’t just delusions that I actualize
Forests, endless, green and earthy
Loves and losses, their unique journey
I’ll never know if these visions hold any truth at all
How can I discover if my fantasies are seaworthy?
I lie awake, perturbed and restless
These endless qualms always leave me breathless
Because I will never know
And though my own time is so very precious,
I return time and time again, to them
Those from which all of history will stem
Our ancestors, our past, our blood
And through all this mayhem
A truth emerges, a few things that are certain
Life is a grand stage in which we stand behind the curtain
And once it comes time to play our part
We play our role as we choose, putting our worth in
And those before us did exactly the same
They gazed at the moon through a slightly different frame
Watched our sun chart a course through the sky
And did all this under their own stage name
It’s such a strange concept to ponder
Yet when my thoughts do wander
I often find myself thinking
Of the lives of those from yonder
Tired never felt so real
My arms are made of lead and steel
I wake before the sun can rise
And fight off sleep with droopy eyes
Tired, that word doesn’t seem quite right
Exhausted lying awake at night
Grinning faces and cheery greetings
My mind slips as it suffers these beatings
Rest my head on stone and sigh
The world is singing a lullaby
Soft and sweet, an enticing dulcet
I strain not to listen, not just yet
At last the doors of home swing open
A single chance to put my hope in
That I could nap for just a minute
Glance through the window; the sky is sunlit
Regal cat and dopey dog
Dozing and dreaming like a log
My mind is so weighted, and yet
My thoughts spin in an endless roulette
Blissful sleep evades me once again
Twitter to the next task like a jittery wren
Clock ticks on and still I keep
This encroaching fatigue, ever to creep
Invade my spirit and dull my grin
Hold out hope that tonight I win
A precious hour without any toil
So my soul can rest from the heat of the broil
When the moon seizes the sky
And overhead constellations lie
I can listen to that lullaby I lust for
Drift ever closer to that deep, dark shore
Tired never felt so real
My arms are made of lead and steel
I woke before the sun could rise
Now I welcome sleep with grateful eyes
Screams. Deep, throaty, bellowing groans in discord with the silence of the graves. That was what the goddess wished to hear as she approached the crypt. This spark in her deadened soul, this wisp of something…an emotion? An impulse?
A fire in the eyes of the devil.
A bitterness on the tongue of a critic.
A harsh word on the ears of the deaf.
What would someone call that? Not a feeling, the goddess decided. She was not wistful for the sound of screams, not hopeful. She was inconvenienced. Inconvenienced by an impulse–the hard metal heart rotting in her chest was incapable of the experience “hope.” So, perhaps, Artemis was experiencing distraction. Irritation.
Niggling at her gut, the annoyance disguised as hope for her Huntsman collected her soul together again. As a goddess, it was simple to fracture herself into various forms and disperse them throughout the Earth and heavens at the drop of a hat. But it required the lack of emotion–no, distractions, she reminded herself–that she could not currently obtain.
It was a cosmic lift from her mind: the weight of all the monitored realities condensing into one form, a merging rather like mixing the ingredients of a pastry; after all, it is easier to carry a single cake than all the flour, eggs, and milk that went into it.
Whole again, the goddess moved with renewed vigor, cautious to monitor her speed lest she overshoot the crypt by a mile at sonic pace. It felt awkward to run again; she hadn’t truly run at a human speed since she ruled the Hunters of Artemis, back when tracking down boar and overconfident cougars was the task of all tasks.
Finally at the cusp of the leering concrete structure, she took a moment to examine it with cold, calculating eyes leering in the anxious light. It was a beautiful tomb: carved with the intricacies and care of craftsmen from a time before. A time of refined workmanship and gentle, deliberate chiselings and chips.
Not like today. Cheap plastic. Mass produced goods. Hasty assembly lines–the festering mortal laxity disgusted her. She was born from the cosmos into a world of art. Beauty. Grace. And–consequently–meticulous hours of work behind each vase and script.
But craftsmanship passed with the years and without note, of little matter to an immortal and even less to a human. The true reason why she trudged through this graveyard was infinitely greater than the tomb.
What lay within. Who lay within: the cause of this annoying distraction of hope. Because despite herself, a shrapnel shred of her iron heart held fondness for him.
Orion. Orion, who once upon a millenia she had loved against her will and against her better judgement. Orion, who was destined to be a mortal, who’s scorpion sting should have seeped toxicity through his arteries and stolen his breath. Orion–for which the goddess had rewritten the stars themself.
She allowed this annoyance to broil in the silence, regarding the stone with daggers in her eyes and shoulders defiantly broadened, despising the silence. Her name did not reverberate from within. No prayers echoed dimly through the crack in the door. This wasn’t good…not at all. There should be screams; that fact, and that fact alone, decided it.
The goddess charged violently at the door, lashing a bolt of crisp white light crackling towards the cement. From the silence the burst of power rattled the air into a frenzied hum. Her gossamer hair lifted and spiked from its sheen, frazzled by the static and the door exploded at once.
Shards of stone and rock thrashed violently against her skin, assaulting the paleness and careening off like a pebble on a bulletproof window. The atmosphere thrummed with the blast as a cloud of suffocating dust billowed from the decimated crypt.
Unmarked, clothes artfully disheveled and hair frizzed, Artemis stumbled forward through the clouds of soot and sucked in a breath. Panic overtook her glass eyes: the rubble was immense. Cradling her thin hands close to her chest, an unexpected regret fizzled through her fingertips in the place of the power she had come to know. Tightness seized her chest. Too much. Too much, I used too much, what if…?
“No,” she breathed, eyes roving the debris, the annoyance of hope rearing strong in her gut. Shiny, platinum hair. Strong hands. Cloth. An arrowhead. Something, anything, to show her she hadn’t…but what if…
What if I killed him? What if he was suffering? What if my flicker of effort crushed him, what if? What if Orion is dead? It shouldn’t matter to her. Another feeble-minded mercenary, blindly following orders on the chance that Artemis will show them love…wasn’t that all he was?
The goddess, clutching her arms against her heart, scrambled to comb the rubble. She flung aside rocks with the frenzy of a starving hyena stumbling upon a fresh kill. Minutes screamed by and thousands of shards spiked the earth where she had thrust them from the debris. No sign of him. Drawing back in fright, the goddess examined her work in terror.
“What am I doing?!” she sobbed to the hazy clouds of ash, to the sky, to the unhearing wind. Dread pooled in her gut.The sky was darkening. Pressure squeezed her brain. Shivers trembled down her spine: what is happening to me?
Artemis had no time to ponder the question when her vision scattered in a crack of light. Lightning burst from the sky, forking a fiery tongue down directly into her aching chest and bursting her conscious thought into shrapnel. Thunder rumbled in the sky, a crescendo like a bowling ball hurtling down the lane. They stepped forward, emerging from the haze like phantoms floating on the fog.
Four girls wrapped in glittering light, angels gliding through the dim cemetery with elegant strides like a young queen at her coronation. Another burst of lighting struck the goddess. She fell back, back arching with the electricity, fighting to condense her being back into this moment. A girl rose her hand and flame emerged, climbing the silk strands of Artemis’ hair and licking down her simple, threadbare clothes. Rain came pounding in then, icy cold and blistering heat ravaging her skin in a torrent, the charge still buzzing along her body.
The Elements overpowered her one by one, pummeling her figure with bolts of energy and wind and gasps of fire so sweltering her skin burned red. Moon dust choking her lungs, stuffing the delicate trachea full of toxicity and smoke. Lightning sizzling her arms. Fire drowning her eyes. Sea spray whipping down on her head like gravel lashed from a truck tire.
Artemis clawed at the earth, reaching for a stone to throw, something to cease this pain, a pain like she’d never felt in all her existence.
Instead, her groping hand found skin. Skin.
The world came back into focus. All the fragmented particles of her essence raced back together in a surge, solidifying in a burst of raw emotion so intense she rocked on her side and screamed. The barrage stopped at once. The four girls were thrown back like rag dolls in the path of a tormenting toddler, thrust on stone mausoleums, bones cracking against graves.
All the millennia of her life suddenly focused, each minuscule moment notable or worthless jamming themselves into her mind, and suddenly Artemis felt like a human. Frazzled, lying in a pile of rubble and soot, desperately clinging to the hand of her long lost love.
Orion. A romantic love, perhaps, or a friendly one, or maybe not love at all so much as a mutual liking…but whatever they had, she suddenly could think of no happier moment in all her life as when she felt her fingers on his.
Paying no attention to the moaning Elementals behind her, she sat up and drew the warm skin of his hand against her face, gently cradling it against her cheek. A pulse fluttered weakly through the veins there, throbbing in time with her flooded head. All the memories, all the years flurried through her brain, a great burst of humanity ravaging her soul. And there was a soul. She felt it now, festering inside her, thrumming and glowing as bright as Selene’s moon.
Dusting the debris from his body, Artemis pulled him close, golden hair splayed across her lap like a sunburst. Willing a morsel of her mind to focus, the power burst eagerly to her fingers and streamed into his broken body, knitting tissues and mending bones. The years of hunting experience coalesced into a healing energy, one she wasn’t sure she had ever used–not on the dying leper during the plagues or the wounded huntress she had taught since youth. Never would she have thought to try. Never, except for him.
When she was certain Orion had healed, she delicately lowered his head onto the stone, brushing the ash from his lids. Turning her head to face the four powerful girls, she was met with a pair of beseeching midnight eyes.
“Selene,” she whispered. The teen girl stood not far from the goddess, legs twisted at disturbing angles and fingers trembling.
“Artemis.” The words were cold, doubtlessly intended to ring with strength but quaking with weakness instead. Kenna the fire girl, Daria of water, and Talia of storm gathered themselves and stood, each bloody with the impact of the cosmic blast.
Stumbling forward, each flashed each other meaningful looks, striding to Selene’s sides and linking arms with her. A row of four girls, meant to be five, full of enough power to rock the universe from its foundation.
There they stood, eyes trained on one lone goddess, the huntress, the eternal maiden. A sense of cumulation permeated the scene, a sense that every instant in their lives, as unique and different as they may be, had been building to this moment. This hour. This minute. This very instant in time.
Once upon a time on a blustery, howling winter day, a wolf pup wandered through a white-dusted wood. The icy cold had spread thick over the land for many days and the poor, displaced wolf shivered with it; it had seeped so deep in his bones it was a wonder it hadn’t frozen his soul. Thusly, he was not so much lost as that he never truly had a home at all–entirely without shelter, on the verge of death, surely, when he came upon a large, hollow oak tree.
“Oh Grand Tree, can you hear me?” he yelped against the wind. The tree bowed its barren branches in response.
“I am in need of shelter and rest, or I will surely freeze. I see you have an ample trunk and warmth to share. May I please rest here until the storm passes?” the pup asked. He quaked with the chill in his tiny body, but the tree drew up sternly, crossing her arms over the cozy hollow.
“I do not aid beggars. Be gone,” she spat. And so the wolf pup left, bowing his head in shame. He wandered for a time, seeming impossibly thin and small against the snarling branches and towering snow banks that surrounded his path. At once, he came across a sheltered thicket.
Within this wintry pocket rested a plump doe and a peacefully sleeping fawn, speckled with white spots and peppered with snow. The mother gazed lovingly upon the young deer, yet when her eyes grazed the desperate pup they hardened like water over the lake.
“Miss Doe, I am sorry to intrude. But I see you have much ample heat in this thicket and a scrap of food to share. I am without shelter and family. May I please rest here until the storm passes?” the young wolf pleaded. But the doe turned up her moist button nose.
“I do not associate with mangy dogs such as yourself. Be gone.” And so the wolf went on quietly, sparing a glance at the resting fawn with envy leadening his heart.
Finally he came across a bear den dark and deep. A mother bear and her cubs huddled within, snug beneath the hanging rocks, pleasantly shielded from the sleeting snow. Shaking off his shivers, he called out in the grandest voice he could muster,
“Mother Bear, can you hear me?” She stirred, then stared at him intently with curious chestnut eyes. “Miss Bear, I am in need of shelter, or I will most certainly perish this night. I cannot go on as of now, but I will not trouble you long. May I find rest here until the blizzard passes?”
Wordlessly, the mother bear smiled and invited him in. The wolf pup nuzzled against the warm stone and slept deeply and peacefully through the night, sparing no single thought to the tree or the doe.
Because of the generosity of the bear, he survived the cruel night and received a belly-full of tantalizing meat. Through the passing years the frail pup grew big and strong. He led a grand pack with abundant resources, nestled in that same forest in which he grew up. Soon he was the king of the wide woods, and as such, some earthly troubles fell over his kingdom after harsh weather.
The wolf decided to trot a loop through the forest to see how he could aid his fellow creatures, when suddenly he came upon a tree. Barren and weeping, unhealthily hollow and her branches sagging weakly to the earth, she cried out,
“Wolf, O Great Wolf! Wait!” He paused in front of her knotted trunk. “Please, Great Wolf, may you fetch me some water from the stream? My roots cannot reach, and without it I will most certainly die!” The wolf gazed intently at the tree. She was the same oak who had sent him away as a young pup. He turned up his snout and sneered,
“I do not aid beggars. Now I must be gone!” And as the tree watched her only hope trot away, she remembered the hungry pup; he who had become the strongest leader in the wood.
The wolf continued on for a time until he came across a small thicket. Within a doe yelped for help. Her chest was stained crimson with a bullet wound and the grass around her breast was slick with blood.
“Please, O Mighty Wolf! I can spy healing herbs just beyond the brush. May you please aid me, for I will most certainly perish without them!” But the wolf remembered this doe from the storm. He turned his back to her and answered,
“I do not associate with mangy doe such as yourself. Now I shall be gone!” And thus the doe thrashed limply on the sticks and remembered with regret a young wolf pup from a freezing night many years ago.
Finally the wolf came across a cozy, warm bear den in the woods. Within, the mother bear from his youth lay frail and starving, skin stretched taut over her bones. The cubs were gone and her kind chestnut eyes showed the weariness of ages past. Yet when she saw him a spark lit in her and she exclaimed,
“Oh, young pup! I do recall that blizzard, so many years ago! How much stronger you are now…and how much older am I!” she laughed. Her muscles burned with the effort to speak and her stomach grumbled and roiled, but she did not ask for aid. The wolf nodded magnanimously and left the cave.
Mother Bear wondered then if she’d upset him somehow–but she would not beg from him, for she was wealthy with love of her grown sons and the experiences of life. She would not ask of him to spend any of his ample resources on her, yet soon he returned with a plethora of meat and berries for the mother bear.
“Thank you for your generosity, madame. I will never forget your aid in my time of need, just as I’m sure you will never forget mine.” He smiled, pawing the stone pensively, reminiscing of the dream-like storm. “Request my help any time, Miss Bear, for I will feel gratitude towards you eternally.”
With this, he left the starving bear to feast, glad to help an old friend.
What goes around comes around.
Show kindness to those in a time of need and they will show mercy to you in yours.