Novel Exert: Family

Nesrin and Ceylan walked alone through the ruins of Karatepe, as they often did when they needed to talk together as sisters. Ceylan stopped and looked at the angle of a lion statue in relation to the ocean. “I think this is where we used to watch the leviathan surface in the water.”

Nesrin stopped next to Ceylan. “It’s hard to tell. The wall’s much lower now than back then. If this is the spot then it must also be where we and our siblings diverted that comet away from the earth.”

Ceylan nodded, then pointed to a line of stone monuments. “I know that’s where that colony of jann made their camp and refused to move for a year and a day.”

Nesrin smiled. “Oh yes. Those are the stones Mother stood on to mediate between them and the townspeople.” She tilted her head. “Speaking of which, did Mother ever rule in Bedeea-el-Jamal’s case?”

“Oh yes. The Patron of Liberty officially reinstated the Queen of the Jann yesterday, and I’m sure she will not let Bedeea forget that. Now that there are seven rulers again, they’re all going to claim a day of the week to represent like the Seven Kings used to. Mother’s going to be Mistress of Monday.”

“Because she needed another title.”

For a short time they walked in silence again. Once again the silence was broken by Ceylan.

“Your roommates seem nice.”

Nesrin considered Isabelle and Jason. “I did stumble onto some good ones. They’re the first humans I’ve wanted to reveal my true self to for a long time.”

“Aravis seemed quite impressed, too, but then I suppose there’s a reason for that.”

“Now what does that mean?”

“I’m not sure. Mother’s just been dropping vague hints lately. Probably nothing.”

“Ceylan, if you know something I don’t…”

“I assure you I don’t, not for sure anyway.”

Narrative Poem: The Weeds on the Wall

weedsonwall

 

Centuries ago the seas concealed cities,

Home to folk who prefered water to air,

Who looked nearly but not fully like we.

One was named Julrane, with ankle length hair

Blue as the water, and eyes of light, deep green.

She lived in Gulfia, near Persia, where

She tended the Citadel’s flower garden.

More plants thrived on the sea bottom back then.

 

Julrane worked quietly and by herself,

Though she rarely felt alone. She had the plants

To provide a sense of life outside herself,

And spoke to them as she would cousins or aunts.

She’d pot a few sometimes and keep them on shelves

In her room, where they became her confidants.

They were flowers, mostly, with some fruit and weeds.

Her favorites, though, were the wild ones; the weeds.

 

On her first day she’d been told to remove all

The weeds from the garden. She pulled up one

And it drifted to the garden’s chalky wall

And stuck. Seeing it, she knew what could be done.

Rather than remove she replanted, till all

The wall wore a green trim which she left alone

And let cover the bare, dormant chalk in life.

For this, having seen it, none could give her strife.

Conventional Adventures

Isabelle and Jason adjusted their costumes as they walked into the building for the local comic book and fantasy convention downtown. Isabelle had on a blond wig, a white button-down shirt with a blue and silver tie, and a shin-length black skirt. Jason had on a black trench coat with a dark blue scarf-ish thing tied around his neck, and a black wig he was trying to make curlier. He watched Nesrin checking her appearance in the glass door. She was wearing a frilly grey blouse and a messy, faded blue skirt that poofed out around her legs, with some kind of black garment tied around her waist. She’d opted out of a wig. Some of her hair was down, but most of it was bunched up in an absolute rat’s nest on top of her head.

He said “I still don’t see why you didn’t come in your hidden one body and call that your costume. You’d’ve cleaned up in all the competitions.”

Nesrin adjusted her skirt. “I couldn’t call that a costume because costumes are for pretending to be something you’re not, and I didn’t wear it because today I want to be something I’m not.”

Additional comments were lost until they adjusted to the sounds of over a thousand people calling out catchphrases and flipping out over booths.

Jason looked around. “I wonder if we’ll get to see any of the celebs we’re dressed as.”

Nesrin shook her head. “Not likely. They mostly only get smaller names here.”

Isabelle gasped. “How can you say that when Aravis Quarterfire has a table here? Jolín, I should have dressed as a character from her web comic. Oh bien, at least I remembered my copy of her book to get signed. And remember, you promised we could visit her table first.”

Nesrin laughed. “I guess we did. Alright, lead the way, Fangirl.”

They didn’t get far before a random person grabbed Jason’s arm and pulled him back. “Hey, listen. I’s supposed to give this folder to somebody at the Chimera Comics booth for a panel, but I can’t leave this table ‘cause my relief ain’t here it. Can you take this? Ask for Sparks. Thanks.” He thrust the folder into Jason’s hands and left.

The trio stared at it.

Isabelle said “We can’t deliver this and see Aravis Quarterfire.”

Nesrin rubbed her chin. “We probably can’t find any one else to take it either. Chimera Comics is on our way, though. We’ll be fine.”

They noticed people staring at them. When they moved forward, so did the people around them. They quickened their pace and the crowd quickened to match.

A voice said “I bet that’s the list of new comics that are comming out this season.”

Another voice said “If we beg enough I bet they’ll tell us.”

Jason felt a hand reach around him and try to grab the folder.

Nesrin snatched the folder before the hand could, then she darted into a tent with Jason and Isabelle following. The tent was a costume vender. The trio found themselves divided by the lines of racks, stumbling around trying to find each other. Nesrin created an illusion of blinking lights over all their heads to lead them to the same exit. When they looked back in the tent people were pushing shirts around a crawling under racks to find them. It was long enough for someone to look up and see them. They darted for Chimera Comics as the crowd started to pour out of the tent.

Nesrin didn’t even stop moving as she dropped the folder on the table. “Give this to Sparks.” She and Jason tried to stop for breath, but Isabelle grabbed their arms.

“Come on. We wasted enough time on that. I just hope the line isn’t too long yet.”

They turned a corner and Isabelle shrieked. The line to see Aravis Quarterfire already stretched past five other tables.

Nesrin nudged her forward. “At least we can get in line now before it gets any longer.”

Isabelle let them take her to the back of the line, sulking all the way. “I guess we can talk to people and pass the time.”

Jason pulled up his coat collar. “I don’t know. Now I’m a little paranoid about gettin’ in a fight with somebody.”

The next thing he heard was Nesrin yelling “The Fellowship should have ridden the eagles to Mordor.”

There was instant silence.

Nesrin counted off on her fingers. “It would have saved a ton of walking, not to mention waaayyy less people would have been tempted by the ring’s power, plus it would have prevented untold bloodshed, and it…”

Someone dressed as an elf said “How would they have hidden from the Eye of Sauron?”

Nesrin shrugged. “Surely the eagles could have outflown any of Sauron’s attacks.”

A crowd member wearing a black monk’s habit lifted a foam sword. “She’s right. Everyone knows that’s a major plot hole. At least they could’ve acknowledged it on screen.”

The one in the elf suit put his hand on the hilt of his own foam sword. “It’s not a plot hole because Tolkien thought of it and explained his reasoning. Read the letter he wrote about the 1958 movie!”

Nesrin waved a hand. “At least they cut out the dead-weight poetry and the descriptions of trees.”

Jason and Isabelle took a step away.

The elf held up his sword. “The descriptions are an integral part of the text, and I challenge anyone who says otherwise to a role-play battle.”

Most of the people in line before them took a battle stance as the crowd around the line grew.

Nesrin leaned close to her roommates and whispered. “Just stand still.”

A voice called “Standard LARP rules apply. 3… 2… 1… Lay-On!”

The line broke in different directions and a flurry of foam swords started to wave around them. Slowly the fighters created a space around the line to avoid the non-fighters. Now there were only four people between them and Isabelle’s author. Nesrin, Isabelle, and Jason hurried past the fighters, watching rows of people crouch on the ground to show they’d been hit.

After they’d gotten back in line, Jason felt a giant cardboard key bounce of his head. Looking around, he couldn’t see an obvious owner, but he heard a bad fake New York accent say “Sorry.”

Finally the last person before them finished talking to Aravis and walked away.

Nesrin moved to Isabelle’s side, apparently to let her friend have her moment.

At first Aravis thought of them as she did any other admiring strangers. Then she looked to Isabelle’s side and gazed intently at Nesrin. Finally she stood up and ran around the table to hug her. “Aunt Nesrin! Did you really think that outfit would fool me?”

“Qué susto!” Isabelle clutched her chest. “Aravis Quarterfire es tu sobrina?”

Nesrin looked up from hugging Aravis. “She’s Ceylan’s daughter. Small world, right?”

“Ostras! Why didn’t you tell me this?”

Aravis detached from Nesrin and held out a hand. “You must be Isabelle. Aunt Nesrin tells me about you all the time. I was really impressed with those ceramic houses you painted, by the way. I almost didn’t believe Aunt Nesrin when she showed me the picture.”

Both Isabelle’s hands flew to her head. “I, it, I, I, she, hos, ella, me…”

“Hold it.”

They all turned to Jason, who had his hands on his hips and was tapping his foot.

“Do you seriously mean all that was so we could meet somebody you could’ve introduced us to whenever you wanted?”

Nesrin laughed. “Nice deduction, Sherlock. I thought it’d be more fun this way.”

Aravis giggled. “Typical Nesrin. Must be a real blast living with her.”

Jason and Isabelle’s mouths both hung open.

“Bless your hearts,” Aravis said. “How ’bout I give you both free signed copies of my next book to make up for it.”

They both responded “That works” without missing a beat.

Restoring Memories

Nesrin and Ceylan had just joined the restoration staff of an open-air museum preserving the remains of an ancient city. They surveyed the ruins around them, finding very little left of the city; some scraps of wall, a few statues, minuscule traces of road.
Nesrin stopped to pet the nose of a stone lion, analyzing the contrast between her young-looking fingers and the years recorded by the moss and dirt on the statue. “Hard to believe this was our childhood home.”
“I know. I sometimes wonder if immortality is so wonderful.” Ceylan picked up a shard of pottery that broke in her hands. “All those years we were gone; we should have been stopping the decay.”
Nesrin’s mouth twitched. “The time for such thoughts is past. Just focus on what we can do now.” She flicked her fingers and the mold and grime fell of the lion, releasing the familiar grey stone underneath.

Nesrin’s Journal – Origin Story

I was born in Karatepe, in the southern region of what is now Turkey, though neither of my parents lived there originally. My mother spent her early life in the area around Persia. She was not born of a mother as I was; she was created in fire.

This was during the time when hidden ones dwelled only in the Rig-e Jenn and had a greater dependence on humans. A delegation came to King Harun and said “We have written the treaties you asked for with the children of Adam, but they request evidence of the strength of our union.”

In response King Harun called for one of his servants and said “Find me thirteen jars of olive oil.”

When the servant returned with his oil, the king removed some of his own flame and used it to set the oil alight. The flames grew and finally began to take shape. The shapes flickered between various forms; doves, horses, perytons, spriggans, and finally settled onto nine women and four men of fire who stepped down from their jars and looked around.

Harun said “These are Sila; beings like us who will marry humans and give them children, thus creating a firm bond between our two peoples. They can change their shapes to make this arrangement agreeable, and you will have no trouble sealing your treaties.”

The plan was made at a time before its faults were widely acknowledged, and so it was agreed to. Before sending them out, the King gave them names, and he called my mother Samira. Clearly he did not know his own clones, or else he would have known that Samira was not so docile as the others.

When they tired to lead her away she refused to go. “Was I made to lead a prisoner’s life? I am fire of the king’s fire and wield more power than any of you. Let the one who makes light of his hands touch me first.” When they moved towards her she created a circle of lightning around herself which removed the tips of their fingers, then she dispersed into a wild windstorm. She re-formed herself on a distant mountain where they would not find her, and thus began an age of exile.

For centuries she traversed Eurasia and Africa, abiding where she liked, and marrying who and when she cared to. Naturally one outcome of this is that I have more siblings than I care to keep track of, and only very few from my father. At one point her travels brought her to the city of Troy, where she discovered that a number of our people had broken Harun’s treaty and were secretly agitating a human war. By now she had become more sympathetic to humans than to her own kind, so she sought to mitigate some of the chaos.

When the infamous horse came through the gates, Samira warned the soothsayer Cassandra about the destruction it would bring, and she went throughout the city warning the people. Only a respected merchant named Cleontes and one other person listened. The other was killed by snakes, but that did not stop Cleontes and Cassandra from plotting together to destroy the pretend gift.

Cassandra told Cleontes “We will act at night when the horse is alone, just before our enemies plan to venture out. You can move about more freely than I. Acquire two axes and two torches. When you see that the people have moved from the horse, come and fetch me, but let no one know what you are doing.”

The plan might have succeeded except that another hidden one named Withanni possessed Cassandra and caused her to rush at the horse alone in the middle of a crowd. Withanni also alerted the people to Cleontes’ intentions, but Mother warned Cleontes that they knew, and he fled in the night.

She took pity on him because he was one of the few who had heeded her warning. When she had helped Cassandra make her own flight, she raced ahead of Cleontes to Karatepe—no difficult task for a hidden one—and when he arrived she was waiting near the city gate in the shape of a woman similar to but different from Cassandra. “Welcome, good traveler. You appear weary. Have you had a long journey?”

“Not long, but hurried, and without sleep.”

She produced a wineskin and a satchel. “Here, let me give you some water and bread. Come with me, and I will show where you can feed and water your horse as well.”

She led him to a well at the center of the town. While he watered his horse she brought him some hay and said “Anything you find in this hay is my gift to you. Use it as you see fit.”

With that in mind, he decided to feed the horse by hand rather than let it graze freely. In so doing he found enough gold coins to buy a house and set up a comfortable life.

Naturally he married her. They integrated well into the workings of their new city, and he set up a successful business as a potter.

I was their firstborn. By your calendar I was born on February 7, 1183 BC. Like all hidden ones I came into the world in smoke and sparks that swirled like roses, but like all humans I also came in with screams and blood. My first movements were abnormally clumsy for a hidden one, and I did not find my voice as quickly as they usually do. I did, however, begin to use my abilities much sooner. They say even in the womb the first time I kicked half the city became invisible, and the second time the streets turned to water. I know those stories are true because I remember. I made the city invisible because I liked playing games, and I flooded the streets because there was a drought. I would have done much more without Mother telling me stories to calm me. She called me Nesrin even then. In English “Nesrin” translates to “wild rose.” I was named after the rose in a story she told me about a nightingale. That story stopped me from creating a lightning storm because I wanted to hear the thunder.

When I was finally born I waved my arms and every hidden one in the country was exposed to the humans around them. I’d been told stories; I knew the hidden ones were supposed to be aiding the humans, and that they continually resisted this order, so I took a stab at correcting that. Sadly that was the last time I got away with such a flippant action, even if Mother had secretly been pleased.

My childhood was pleasant enough. Without Mother’s power to tap into I had to develop for myself, which was unbearably frustrating but also exhilarating. Ceylan was born a year after me, and we had grand adventures together, though those are all different stories. There isn’t time to tell them all now, but I’m sure I will tell them at some point. I tell these ancient stories often so as not to forget them myself. 3201 years is a long life to keep track of, and without my journals I doubt even I would remember all I have seen and done. Some of my stories are not worth remembering, others I have actively tried to forget, but this is one I mean to hold on to.

Snapshots of Alternatives

Jason’s roommate Jonathan nudged him awake. Looking around, Jason saw that he had fallen asleep on the couch holding a video game controller, again. He looked at his phone and saw it was 5 pm. “Great. I lost almost another full day of job searching.”

“Which reminds me, the rent’s due, and I can’t afford another month of not getting your half.”

Jason rubbed his head. “I should’ve stayed in grad school. Could’ve gotten a little job at the college… sublet that apartment with Isabelle… She wouldn’t let me sleep my life away.”

While Jason was bemoaning his choices, Isabelle was in a history museum running between the exhibits. “Madre, check out these Mardi Gras queen’s trains. This one’s from the 1800s. Vaya! Can you imagine how strong the stitching must be to hold all those diamonds in place for this long?”

Celia put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “It looks muy pesado to me. Do you think being a queen is worth wearing that, Niña?”

“I think they only wear the trains for the parade, and then they drape them over the float, so it’s less like wearing one and more just pretending to wear one.”

“Well in that case I hope I get to see you pretend to wear one some day.”

Isabelle instantly started imagining a royal blue cape with a big golden eagle broach at the top and ribbons flowing all the way to the bottom over an embroidered map of the world, with gears and a clock face in the middle. She was pulled from her fantasy when her eyes turned to the next exhibit. “Madre! Madre! Madre! There’s an exhibit on the Titanic!” She started to run towards the cutout of the ship, but after a few steps she and Jason both ceased to exist as their real selves broke from their fantasies.

***

Nesrin rode a giant dog made of fire, leading her army into the apartment complex. Waves of hidden ones led by Ceylan flew overhead while the human ranks marched beneath them with guns loaded. The snipers and ninjas had gone ahead of them on the rooftops, and tanks were left in the streets waiting. Mithal the Failure Caliph was chained to Nesrin’s dog, carrying the Bottle of Samira.

Nesrin smiled at the lack of resistance. “My day has finally dawned. Soon she will learn that no one opposes Nesrin the Half Fire, not even her alternate self.” At last earth’s moon and Venus appeared in the sunlit sky. Now she was ready. She teleported into the apartment with Ceylan by her side.

Ceylan scoffed at their surroundings. “Forgive me, Khanum, but I fail to see how even a hypothetical version of you could live here.”

“This version was weak.” Her eyes glowed black and a dagger of black water appeared in her hand. “History broke her, but she is only a wraith of a might-have-been.”

They found the other Nesrin in her bedroom writing in her journal about impersonating her mother and her new reconnaissance task. The experience had revived suppressed, panicked memories of a human war she’d been involved in. The tortured fantasies it provoked gave the darker Nesrin strength as she lifted the dagger.

The other Nesrin slammed the journal shut and closed her eyes. “No.”

The Khanum dropped her dagger and stumbled.

The other Nesrin clenched her fists on her desk. “Let the thoughts go. Just hand them over.”

The Khanum and her sister faded like smoke in the wind, sending out ripples that erased their army like a tsunami. Once they were gone, the real Nesrin collapsed into her chair, able to relax a little.

Wish Granted

Jason and Isabelle were sitting on their balcony fanning themsleves with envelopes while they opened Christmas cards.

Finally Jason flung down his envelope in frustration. “It’s a week before Christmas and it’s 78 degrees outside. Something is seriously wrong with this.”

“This is Mobile, Alabama, mi hermano. You know it never gets cold here. Trees barely even change from verde to rojo.”

Jason held up a card depicting a nighttime scene of a cabin at the top of a snow-covered mountain. “Look at this! This is what they program us to expect. In all the pictures and all the movies this is what winter looks like; they even taught us that in elementary school.” He flung his hand toward the balcony. “And look out there. It’s all a pack of lies! Would one little flurry be that much to ask?”

Almost as he stopped speaking, something small and white floated onto his wrist.

Isabelle grabbed his shoulder. “Jason, mira!”

Jason looked up and saw white flakes falling like feathers out of a torn pillow. He and Isabelle stood and almost jumped over the balcony railing.

Behind them, Nesrin was poking her head out of the door. “It’s Christmas; your wish is my command.” A second later she appeared on the ground beneath them. “Race you downstairs!”

Jason and Isabelle dashed past the cards and through the apartment to the stairs outside, too excited to even put on jackets against the newly delivered cold.