Revised Intro/Prologue

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(Chapter Five has also been revised, and is available in the complete story link at the top of the page.)

“’Ey! Stupid boy! Wake up!”

The boy felt a terrible force kick him in the stomach. It knocked the wind out of him slightly, making him clench inwards.

The boy’s mind swam in deep waters. He’d been dreaming again. Something about being out in the blazing sun, feeling it against his skin. Its warmth filled him, made him feel relaxed and strangely powerful. He frowned. Considering he lived in the mountain village of Olvaren, the sun only shining brightly for about two weeks out of the year before frosting over again, he didn’t know where this feeling came from. A distant memory told him he came from somewhere much warmer than this, but it remained only an echo, something unreal and untrue.

“Oh no you don’t, you get right out of bed before I have to slap you out of it!”

A terrible collection of pinpricks struck his face, waking him immediately. A broom.

“Come on, now, you’ve got chores to do! Don’t make me grab the leather and make you!”

Aeo mentally switched gears. Slowly, but diligently enough to convince Ariste that he wasn’t disobeying her. He rose from his small cot, rubbed his eyes, and noticed the large woman was holding the broom out to him.

“Oh,” he whispered, and took it.

“Lazy boy,” Ariste replied. “Come on, come on!”

The Gray Pale Inn smelled like cheap ale and sawdust this morning. Along with something else… Oh, right, it ‘enriched’ itself with the air of the stable connected through the back door. Horrible. Some patron to the inn had brought with him a team of five horses and just barely fit them all into the meager space. Needless to say, Aeo would be cleaning the stable when the man left. He would gratefully do it, too – it was the only time he would be free of the inn itself, giving him time to think to himself.

The morning usually consisted of cleaning the rooms of travelers who departed from the inn’s few rooms, and this the boy did first. About half of them had departed at dawn, no doubt to see themselves on the road before the usual traffic. And by the time those rooms were cleaned and made right, the rest would leave and give him more to do. The boy had heard talk that Olvaren sat in the middle of a ‘trade route’. He didn’t quite know what that meant, besides the fact that the inn filled itself night after night with tired travelers and men looking to get drunk. Up the mountain, maybe, where a slave could be free…

“Hurry up, boy!” Ariste would say after each room, usually throwing a swing of her hand hoping to catch the boy’s ear. Or maybe it was a broomstick handle, a beer flagon, even a candlestick. Anything she could grip and swing. He didn’t know why. After all, no one ever came to find a room for the night at seven o’clock in the morning. At least the boy knew how to avoid a blow.

That wretched woman. That gigantic woman. Ariste. His owner of three years. She didn’t deserve a name as pretty as that. He would rather risk serving an angry bear than catch sight of her. Always something went wrong. Always something to blame on him. If the patrons were unhappy with their rooms somehow, the boy would hear no end of it at the end of the day. If someone in the inn managed to slip or fall because of spilled beer or water, the boy would be slapped at least once and sent to bed without food. After all, it was his fault the floors weren’t cleaned spotless. Goddess help him if he ever spilled food on the floor or tripped and spilled drinks on customers. What a clumsy worthless Aurion, Ariste would say, to the delight of the patrons. Aurion, being his place of birth, of course. Some place he would never remember. It was the dirtiest thing they could say about him, and would often illicit laughter from other patrons. He had no idea why.

“Don’t let me catch you slacking off in the backroom,” she would often say, as if the backroom were the boy’s favorite spot. “If you do, it’s double duty for the lavatory.” The boy would often think how funny it was that she would give double duty to clean other people’s duty, but he never said so. It would probably get him slapped.

After the rooms, the boy swept the inn’s kitchen, the serving area, under all the tables and chairs, and the front foyer. After, it was wiping down all those tables and chairs with ratty rags. It never seemed to do much. After all, for all the years the furniture had served guests and patrons, the boy was certain they all had been stained with enough alcohol to make them impervious to any other stain. By this time, a few villagers would wander into the inn looking for breakfast, and the boy quickly made sure they were comfortable and took their orders. Perhaps the only thing the boy wasn’t allowed to do was cook, surprisingly enough. Ariste had allowed it once. The omelet had turned to a scrambled mess that nearly caught fire. The boy was throttled for that.

After the morning’s food was delivered, it was the boy’s responsibility to lift cartons of milk, cheese, and bread into the storeroom. He had only stolen a small bit of bread once, and blamed the evidence on rats. He was still struck with a frying pan. That one left quite the bruise on his shoulder.

Ariste always put on a face when serving guests that might convince them that she adored owning her own inn and tavern. Being the center of Olvaren gossip and news delighted her to no end. She indeed spread those rumors around. Some man sleeping with a woman other than his wife, the strange religion of some traveler, the finances of some person the boy hardly knew. And, at the very least, the ‘fact’ that the boy was a scab that had no place with the other children of the village and even other slaves. (Yes, there were other slaves, but the boy had never met them. He wasn’t allowed outside without a leash, which is why he enjoyed cleaning the stables so much.) Always with the name-calling. She never called the boy by his name. Useless boy. Good for nothing waste of flesh. ‘Bastard child’ was a rare treat. She had deemed it proper to explain to the boy what that one meant once, but considering he’d never met his parents, he wasn’t sure that one was true.

That wasn’t to say she didn’t have her tender moments. Very rarely, of course. She would take the him shopping for clothes, keeping the leash around the boy’s neck and a sharp eye out for his thieving fingers at the market. As if the boy had thieving fingers; he’d never taken anything that didn’t belong to him in his life. Well, maybe once or twice. Slaves in Olvaren were known for their ‘deviant behavior’ (the boy didn’t know what that meant at first), so it must be true of Aeo. Cheap, itchy flax shirts and pants, thin soled shoes for a few copper pieces. Good enough for her, so good enough for him.

About midday, the man of the house usually showed himself. Horthoon. Drunken, sloppy, drooling Horthoon. Ariste’s good-for-nothing husband. The whole village knew of his drinking problems, even more than everyone knew the boy to be a lazy Aurion. How she put up with this physical embodiment of laziness the boy had no clue. She certainly didn’t let the boy off the hook. Harthoon certainly made no effort to help around the inn, and rarely put on a mask of sobriety if he could help it. Ariste slapped him every once in a while for forgetting to purchase firewood, ignoring the dirty windows, or harassing the inn’s patrons. Especially harassing the inn’s patrons. For some reason he felt attracted to the pretty ladies that walked through the door, despite the ring on his finger. Yet Ariste never did hit Harthoon with much force. Harthoon’s favorite wooden mug always brimmed with beer, and he made sure the boy filled it at every opportunity, even at two or three in the afternoon.

Harthoon’s favorite past times were kicking at the boy when disturbed (which happened often, considering how much alcohol he consumed), mumbling to himself, and pouring alcohol into the boy’s face for a laugh until people couldn’t smell the difference between them. In the middle of an Ariste chastising, Harthoon would sometimes stumble into it and apply the physical violence to the boy himself. The man struck uncontrollably, sometimes missing completely, sometimes with such force as to knock the boy flat on his back. Ariste would lightly scold him for doing so for some reason, as if she wanted to do it herself.

Sometimes, when completely slobbered out of him mind in the middle of the night, Harthoon would find the boy attempting to sleep. He would sit himself on the ground, wake the boy with a start, and proceed to sob uncontrollably in the boy’s lap. Harthoon’s tangled, matted beard was usually soaked in alcohol, and would make the boy drunk just by the smell of it. The boy never knew how to manage this or where it came from. Perhaps he hated Ariste just as much as he did. Perhaps this was the truth coming out at last. But by morning, Harthoon would forget the moment ever occurred and went back to bothering everyone in the inn as he regularly did.

The floors covered themselves nightly in slop and dirt, sometimes mixed with snow and ice when the season turned. A flimsy mop served as a constant companion, and he often dozed off with it in hand as an excuse in case she ever caught him. Then, at midnight, it was time for bed just to rise at six o’clock to start all over again. Maybe the bags around his eyes made people think he slept too much. Maybe that’s why they all called him lazy.

Ariste never slept. Not when the boy slept, at least. She threw him to bed, then threw him right back out again. What drove the woman the boy couldn’t fathom. Maybe she ran on cruelty. Maybe slapping the boy gave her strength. Many of the bruises on his arms and back belonged to her, and she added to them on a regular basis.

The idea of freedom had occurred to the boy at some moments, when it got bad enough. Maybe he could run away, get as far as the highway and manage to get to the next town without being noticed. He’d heard there was a border somewhere, and that if he crossed it, he could be free. But he’d heard traders talk about it as if it were weeks away, and the boy was certain he couldn’t hide for weeks and weeks without being discovered and sent right back to Ariste and Harthoon. No, there was a single choice for the boy. Up. Up the mountain trail and to the forests and jungles on the other side. It was another country on the other side. If he could find a way to carry himself to the other side of the mountain without freezing, he could be free and never work in a dirty inn again.

But he never dared try. He’d be caught. He’d freeze to death. There’s no way a trader would carry him over to the other side in secret. He’d have to convince one first, and that was assuming Ariste wouldn’t catch wind of it. He’d be beaten for sure.

No, there was no way. Maybe when he grew up he could buy his freedom. He’d heard other slaves do that. Maybe he could too.

 

“Get out of bed, boy! Now!”

Another kick to the stomach. It knocked another dream of the sun right out of him.

“Uhhn,” the boy replied, doing his best to lift himself out of bed.

“You didn’t sweep the kitchen well at all! Crumbs and dirt everywhere! It’s a miracle no one was poisoned tonight! Go, do it right!”

Ariste struck him on the head rather sharply with the broomstick before throwing it in his lap. What time was it…? The boy peered over his shoulder out the window. Darkness. Perhaps he’d only been sleeping for a few minutes, he couldn’t tell. Ariste disappeared as fast as she’d appeared, but that wasn’t to say she wasn’t just around the corner ready to strike if he didn’t hurry. He slipped on his thin shoes and stood. He struck his head against the shelf.

“Oww…”

He slipped on his shirt, grabbed the broom, and stumbled out the door of his closet into the dining area of the inn. All was quiet and dark save for a few candelabras that hung from the ceiling. Ariste was nowhere to be found. Lucky. He crossed the room quickly. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the dark, he was just afraid of the dark if someone came with it.

In the kitchen, a single lantern burned dimmly above crates of potatoes and carrots. He was hungry, certainly, but he wouldn’t be caught dead munching on one. Instead, he pushed the closest crate away from the door and entered. From what he could see of the floor, it wasn’t all that bad, besides the fact that the room smelled like rotting fruit and dirty dishwater. Maybe a few stray dust bunnies and chopped vegetables lined the floor beneath the bar and sink. The boy sighed. He could feel his eyelids pushing down on themselves, but he pressed on, jamming the broom into the space between the floor and the side of the side table. If he hurried, it wouldn’t take him long.

Brush after brush after brush. So boring. He could feel himself get into a rhythm that didn’t actually get anything done. He shook his head back and forth. Snap out of it. Get this done right and you can sleep. The boy knelt down to get at the debris underneath the stove. Ariste especially hated having anything beneath her stove. There were a few stray crumbs there in the darkness – maybe that was what she exploded at. He tossed the broom underneath to get at the wall and pull everything out. Wouldn’t quite fit.

Warily, he placed his hand on the stove. It was cold. He lowered himself to his belly and shoved the broom inside.

Then, suddenly, everything went completely dark.

The boy turned his head to the lantern. Completely spent. The boy growled and stood to his feet. He couldn’t sweep if he couldn’t see. The boy wasn’t allowed to use matches. Usually. But the thought of waking Ariste just to light the lantern filled him with dread. He scratched his arm. He didn’t want another bruise.

The boy knew where Ariste kept them. The shelf just above the stove. He blindly lifted his arms up and found the edge of the cupboard door. It was filled with square boxes, and he only needed one specifically. Not that one, not that one… A tiny one reached his fingers. He pulled it down, slid the lid open. Matchsticks. Small and thin. He’d never lit one himself, but he’d seen Ariste do it dozens of times. Just strike the black bit against the box and it should light into a small flame. Simple enough.

The boy crossed the room. He clambered up on top of the potato crate, careful not to actually step or kneel on any of them. The lantern still smoked lightly, but only a few red embers remained on the tiny wick. He could only hope the lantern still had enough oil. He took one match, and pressed it against the box.

Strike one. Nothing. Strike two. Nothing. Strike three…

“Oh!”

In a poof, it burst alight.

He quickly thrust the match into the lantern, pressing it against the tiny wick. Nothing happened. Wait, I’m supposed to make the wick bigger. With his other hand, he fumbled around the lantern until he found the knob. It spun, and the wick raised up, lighting up immediately.

“Good,” the boy whispered. He then pulled out the small still-burning matchstick. Just as Ariste had done many times, the boy shook the match to make it go out.

It didn’t go out. He shook it again.

The flame grew bigger.

He couldn’t drop it. He’d catch something on fire, for sure. But it dropped lower and lower, close to his fingers.

He shook it one more time.

“Ah!”

He felt the heat. He dropped the match. But the fire remained. The small candle-like flame attached itself to the boy’s finger like a drop of water.

“No, no! Get off!”

He shook his hand. The flame grew bigger, spreading up his finger and onto the back of his hand. It felt warm, just like the dream of the sun.

“Get off!” the boy cried.

He shook his hand faster. Too fast. It swung upwards, striking the lantern. With a clatter, the lantern fell back behind the crate of potatoes. The boy quickly jumped down from the crate and ran to the sink. The fire was still spreading from his hand up his arm. It even caught his shirt, and started burning the cloth.

“No, no, no!”

He could hardly see, but the flames actually helped him find the sink knobs. He turned them on and immediately doused his hand; the flames disappeared. He tossed water onto his arm and patted out the fire; at last, those flames went out as well. In the darkness, he could hardly see his hand. He imagined the skin melting like cheese, wrinkling and peeling like the skin of a tomato. He felt it up and down, again and again… Nothing. No pain. Not even a burning sensation. His sleeve was charred and stiff, but his arm was fine.

He sighed. How strange.

He smelled smoke. Then he saw light. Dim at first, but then quickly rising.

“Ah! No, no!”

The potato crate burst into flame.

Whether it was the dropped match or the fallen lantern, it hardly mattered.

“What in hell’s name is going on in here, boy! I heard-”

Then Ariste screamed.

“Y-You stupid boy! You monster! Get the bucket, get it now!”

The boy looked around. What bucket?

“Move!” Ariste cried, charging towards the sink. “Move, you idiot!”

She flung the boy to the ground with one hand, and filled the bucket in the sink as quickly as the faucet would allow… which wasn’t fast at all, truth be told. In the meantime, Ariste filled the room with obscenities, most of which were directed at the boy in no particular order.

“You Aurion bastard child!” she cried, for example. “Ahh! What did I tell you about matches, you stupid boy!?”

The boy sat on the ground, slightly dumbfounded. He watched the fire burning faster and faster, catching onto more of the crates. One of the crates was filled with ceramic pots and thatch to keep them protected—that went up in a burst of intense heat rather quickly.

It felt like a dream. The dream of the sun. With all his heart he knew he shouldn’t wish it, but he wanted the fire to rise higher. Burn brighter. More intensely. Maybe even burn his arm again, and spread further, like an orange snake slithering across his skin. Ariste’s shouts droned in and out, like a mesmerizing pattern of sounds, consumed just like the wooden crates in the uncontrollable dance of the burning heat.

Somewhere in the midst of this hallucination, Harthoon had entered the room, panic growing in his eyes. The boy had never seen him so alert before. He took his coat and tried stamping out the fire. The water bucket filled, Ariste took it and threw it against the fiery inferno. To everyone’s shock, most of which the boy’s, the flames seemed to devour the water like oil, bursting up against the ceiling and further into the room.

“Y-You did this!” Ariste shouted, no longer able to control the situation. But this she could control. She grabbed the boy by the shirt and hauled him across the room and out the door. With a thud, the boy landed against the bar, hitting his head against the wood and making him dizzy.

“I’ll strangle you for this, boy, you hear me! I’ll kill you if this place burns down! You hear me!”

She wore soft slippers. She kicked the boy hard in the stomach. Nothing felt soft.

“You… You stupid son of a bitch,” Harthoon said, more intensely than the boy had ever heard before. He added an effective kick of his own against the boy’s arm.

Ariste bent down and threw her fist at the boy’s face. It connected. The boy felt his brain in the back of his head. She hauled the boy up by his shirt again, and threw him towards the door as hard as she could. The boy tripped and fell against chairs and a table.

“Go and get the constable, you idiot!” she screamed. “And don’t come back without help!”

She and Harthoon quickly scrambled back into the kitchen to try putting out the fire again. The boy struggled to his feet, unable to see. Mostly. His eye was swelling up. He stumbled to the door, unfastened the locking bar, and flung it open. Frozen air blasted his face as he walked out into the cold.

A thought occurred to him as he stared out into the dark.

Forget the constable. Forget the fire. Forget Ariste and Harthoon.

It doesn’t matter anymore, he thought to himself. I’m never coming back.

Alyssum – Chapter Five

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By sundown, the wind outside had become particularly vicious. Aeo could hear its anger from inside the cave quite clearly. Considering there wasn’t much else to do besides listen and rest, Aeo laid restlessly against the back wall of cave. It was also the first time Aeo realized his shirt had been removed and put… somewhere. Considering the amount of holes and patches keeping it together, Aeo wondered if Leon hadn’t simply thrown it away.

Although the blizzard outside told him he should, Aeo didn’t care at all for that ratty thing.

This strange place. Maybe not home. But there was no pain here. Freedom.

Aeo struggled not to think. It didn’t work. He imagined what he would be doing down in the village if he’d never left. The Gray Pale Inn would smell like cheap ale and sweat, sometimes enriching itself with the air of the stable connected through the back door. The morning consisted of cleaning the rooms of travelers who departed from the inn’s few rooms. Lifting cartons of milk and cheese well into the night was a daily occurrence, serving villagers and visitors. The floors covered themselves nightly in slop and dirt, sometimes mixed with snow and ice when the season turned. A flimsy mop served as a constant companion, and he often dozed off with it in hand as an excuse in case she ever caught him. Then, at two or three in the morning, it was time for bed just to rise at six o’clock to start all over again.

That wretched woman. That gigantic woman. Ariste. She didn’t deserve a name as pretty as that. He would rather risk serving an angry bear than catch sight of her. Always something went wrong. Always something to blame on him. Always something to clean, something to move, something to serve. She always put on a face when serving guests that might convince them that she adored owning her own inn and tavern. That being the center of Olvaren gossip and news delighted her to no end. She indeed spread those rumors around, the very least the ‘fact’ that Aeo was a lazy, inconsiderate scab that had no place with the other children and even slaves in the village. But when the inn closed and even the drunk ones departed, the expression on her face would turn to something resembling rage, as if all the niceties she shared with patrons were something she kept and sealed in the money safe at the end of the day.

Useless. Good for nothing. A waste of flesh. ‘Bastard child’ was a favorite.

That wasn’t to say she didn’t have her tender moments. Very rarely, of course. She would take Aeo shopping for clothes, keeping a leash around Aeo’s neck and a sharp eye out for his thieving fingers at the market. As if Aeo had thieving fingers; he’d never taken anything that didn’t belong to him in his life. But slaves in Olvaren were known for their deviant behavior, so it must be true of Aeo. Cheap flax shirts and pants, thin soled shoes for a few copper pieces. Good enough for her, so good enough for him.

She never slept. Not when Aeo slept, at least. She threw Aeo to bed at midnight, then throw him right back out again. What drove the woman Aeo couldn’t fathom. Maybe she ran on cruelty. Slapping him was a favorite past time of hers. Broomsticks, bar stools, beer flagons. Anything she could grip and swing.

Aeo tenderly rubbed the bruise under his eye. That was hers.

Then there was Horthoon. Drunken, sloppy, drooling Horthoon. Ariste’s good-for-nothing husband. The whole village knew of his drinking problems, even more than Aeo was rumored to be lazy. How she put up with this physical embodiment of laziness, no one knew, least of all Aeo. He certainly made no effort to help around the inn, and rarely put on a mask of sobriety if he could help it. Ariste slapped him every once in a while for forgetting to purchase firewood, ignoring the dirty windows, or harassing the inn’s patrons. Never did she hit Harthoon as forcefully as Aeo. Yet Harthoon’s favorite wooden flagon was always brimming with beer, and he made sure Aeo filled it at every opportunity.

Harthoon’s favorite past times were kicking at Aeo when disturbed (which happened often), mumbling to himself, and pouring alcohol into Aeo’s face for a laugh until people couldn’t smell the difference between himself and the boy. Sometimes, when completely slobbered out of him mind in the middle of the night, he would find Aeo attempting to sleep. He would wake Aeo with a start and proceed to sob uncontrollably in the boy’s lap. Harthoon’s tangled, matted beard was usually soaked in alcohol, and would make Aeo drunk just by the smell of it. Aeo never knew how to manage this or where it came from. Perhaps he hated Ariste just as much as Aeo. Perhaps this was the truth coming out at last. But by morning, Harthoon would forget the moment ever occurred and went back to bothering everyone in the inn as he regularly did.

The bruises on Aeo’s back belonged to him.

Something must have happened for both Ariste and Harthoon to become enraged at the same time. Bad luck, perhaps. Maybe he’d been discovered napping just before closing time, or he’d forgotten to clean the ale spigots or the bar. Aeo couldn’t remember. The two emerged simultaneously into Aeo’s little closet, mad as hornets and completely unintelligible. They’d clobbered him like a pair of devils. Ariste chose a bar stool as her preferred weapon this time, something she rarely did when other blunt instruments were out of reach. And perhaps Harthoon had been just the right consistency of alcohol and nerves. To Aeo’s horror, Harthoon opened a switchblade, something he’d never done before. Seconds into the encounter, when Ariste discovered a bar stool an imperfect weapon for the tiny room, she threw it down and began throwing fists. Several connected, including the one on his face. Just as Aeo struggled to get away with a few kicks, Harthoon struck Aeo’s leg with the knife. It hadn’t cut very deep; his aim had been wobbly and poor. Lucky. It might produce a scar. Frozen as it had been, besides being covered in the day’s alcohol, the chances of infection were hopefully slim.

He had to leave. Now.

Somehow, Aeo dove between them without being grappled. He ran into one of the inn tables and threw it to the side, gaining the momentum he needed to thrust himself to the inn’s front door. He was even smart enough to throw down a few chairs in case they chased after him. He threw back a quick glance; Harthoon’s clumsy self blocked Ariste’s large body from exiting the small closet and giving chase. Aeo threw the inn door open and slammed it shut on the way out.

There was nobody out in the cold that night. No one to stop him. He might have chosen to travel the road that crossed the highway and other towns beyond, but there would be no one friendly of slaves. In fact, if any men policing the road late at night caught him, there would be nowhere to go besides right back to the The Gray Pale Inn. So he chose up. Up the mountain. As fast as he could.

Aeo shuddered and stretched his arms.

Never going back.

His limbs no longer felt sore and lifeless as the night before. The opposite, in fact. They still longed to move something, sweep something, mop something. When his feet healed, Aeo decided, he would work for Leon and Pick. He might even work for Shera, so long as she never… What did Leon call it? Right, ‘blocked’ him again. His head still hurt from the experience. But even it hardly compared to the dull aching pain that covered the whole rest of him.

Aeo tenderly rubbed the bruise surrounding his eye.

What would he say to Leon if he asked about him? He certainly couldn’t admit to being a slave. But there was no family to return to, no friends that would miss him. No one in the entire village would miss him. That part had been true. Would Leon and Shera let him stay on the mountain, or would they kick him back out into the cold? That couldn’t be true. Leon didn’t seem like a forceful man, certainly nothing like his former masters. And although Aeo could sense Shera disliking him, Pick was more than happy to be friends.

Maybe he could be a pet to a wolf? He decided he wouldn’t mind that. So long as any biting stayed at a minimum. Not that there had been any biting. The thought just crossed his mind.

The big cave door creaked. Aeo sat up. In wobbled a great furry mass, which stopped halfway in the cave to shake off the light layer of snow that covered him.

A pair of curious eyes spotted Aeo, and Pick growled quietly as a thought entered Aeo’s head.

<The color teal. A human hopping up and down.>

“Hi… Pick,” Aeo said. “Uh, hopping…? Oh. I don’t think I can walk yet. My toes still hurt.”

After closing the door with the rope, Pick clambered over to the corner of the room where his bed lay. He circled a couple of times and finally rested himself with a thud. His head came down across Aeo’s lap as it had before, and he whimpered a sad song as he looked up.

“It’s okay,” Aeo said, petting Pick’s muzzle. “Leon said I’ll be better soon. I believe him.”

<The color green. A human chasing a wolf. Then a wolf chasing a human.>

“Um… Is that… playing?” Aeo asked. “You like to run around?”

Pick barked, a sound that made Aeo flinch a bit.

“I’ll, uh… I’ll take that as a yes.”

Then, the terrible occurred again. Pick lifted his head and did his best to lick Aeo’s face. He nearly succeeded. This time, Aeo defended himself, and received wolf slobber all up and down his hands and arms.

“H-Hey! Wait! D-Don’t do that…!” he cried.

Pick obeyed as he placed his head down again. His eyes seemed to grow distant, looking away.

<The color blue. A wolf licking a human.>

Aeo frowned, wiping his arms on the fur blanket.

“Sad? It makes you sad… when you lick me?”

Pick growled and shook his head. That wasn’t it.

“Oh, it makes me sad?”

Pick yipped quietly.

“No, it doesn’t.” Aeo laughed lightly. “It’s just… messy, that’s all.”

Pick looked up at Aeo from his lap.

<The color blue. A human house in the snow. A human running away from it.>

Aeo’s eyes grew wide.

“Yeah, I was just… I mean, you… I wasn’t…” Aeo tried to slide backwards only to find himself without sliding room. He placed a hand to his lips and whispered. “Y-You can’t read my mind… can you?”

Pick shook up and down with airy laughter and shook his head back and forth.

“Oh. That’s… Uh, y-yeah, good. I mean, I was just thinking about… some things.”

<The color blue. A human falling down. A wolf howling.>

“Falling…?” Aeo reached out for the bruise surrounding his eye. “Oh, I didn’t… fall exactly. Some people… they hurt me. I ran away from them.”

Pick growled louder than he had in the past.

<The color red. A wolf chasing after humans.>

Then:

<The color blue. A wolf licking a smaller human.>

“I know, Pick. I got angry too. Really angry. But… but I couldn’t do anything. I can never do anything. I always just… sit there. I’m useless. That’s what they told me. Every day. Every day!” Aeo threw his fist at the ground and felt tears coming to his eyes. “That’s why nobody cares about me. No one’s going to search for me. They’ll just think I’m dead, and forget about me.” He arrived at a realization. “They don’t need me. They’ve never needed me. Maybe I won’t have to work anymore. Maybe they’ll torture someone else for a change…”

Pick whined and drew his head closer to Aeo’s chest.

<The color blue.>

Aeo sniffed. He raised his hand and passed it over the soft fur on Pick’s head.

“It… it makes me sad, too,” Aeo said.

<An image of a small wolf with two large wolves surrounding it.>

“What do you… mean?”

<The two large wolves licking the smaller wolf and howling.>

Aeo’s shoulders fell.

“Oh. Do I have a mom and dad.” Aeo shrugged. “I… I don’t know anymore.”

Pick whined.

“I don’t know who my dad was. I… guess I had one. My mom died when I was really little. At least that’s what they told me. When I was born, I lived far away. Then something happened, and I was brought to Olvaren.”

Pick’s head bobbed up and down. He then started panting, and his breath filled the air.

<The color teal. A human hugging a wolf.>

Aeo rubbed his nose with his arm.

“Y-Yeah,” he said quietly. “Now… you’re my friend. Right?”

Pick lifted his head and howled quietly at the ceiling. It then fell back down into the boy’s lap. He had a grin on his face, Aeo could tell.

“Thanks Pick,” he said. “I’m… really happy you’re here.”

Alyssum – Chapter Four

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Everything felt wonderful. The new water bottles felt so good on his skin, Aeo didn’t want to move anymore. Leon even placed water bottles on the sides of his head to keep his ears warm—he hadn’t realized just how dull and cold they’d been until warmth filled them. He didn’t even move when Pick came to lick his face with his enormous wet tongue.

<A human hugging a wolf’s head.>

“Uh…” Aeo whispered, gagging. “Y-Yeah… good boy.”

“Hey Picky,” said Leon, removing his jacket and replacing it with a light-brown buttoned dress shirt. “I need you to go and get Shera for me. Go feed the bighorners for her. Tell her I sent you, okay?”

Pick’s head drooped down low and his nose nuzzled up against Aeo’s side. He whined quietly.

“It’s all right. Aeo’s not going anywhere. You can watch over him in a little bit. I just need to speak with him and Shera for a while. Please? And close the door when you go?”

Pick’s shoulders drooped low, but he lifted himself off the ground and headed for the door. Standing on all four legs, the wolf pup stood a little taller than a full-grown lion, and Aeo knew he still had a lot of growing to do. The unlatched large door swung wide open, and Aeo expected the cold air from outside to blast inside the cave and suck all the warmth away. To his surprise, it didn’t at all, and not just because he was being smothered by hot spring water bottles. Pick closed the door shut and disappeared.

“There we go,” Leon said. “I was hoping I could talk to you now that you’re not frozen solid.”

Aeo frowned. Might as well put his cards on the table.

“You’re… not going to make me go back to the village, are you, sir?”

Leon placed his hands on his knees and leaned backwards.

“Well, there’s the question,” he said. “I didn’t wonder where you came from, but I did wonder where you received all those bruises. If you’re asking if I’ll kick you out when you’re frostbite heals, the answer is no. Of course not. But I wonder if you might tell me who you belong to. Do you have family? Friends? Anyone who might be searching for you?”

“No,” Aeo replied. “No one cares about me.”

Leon cast his eyes downwards.

“Is that right,” he replied.

“I’m not going back to Olvaren,” Aeo said flatly. “Never.”

“You say there’s no one there that cares about you,” Leon said quietly. “But someone hurt you. Now, I don’t know what caused it. But they took it too far, didn’t they? Quite the collection of bruises you have on you, kid. Nothing would have led you up here in night clothes otherwise.”

“I’m not a kid,” Aeo growled.

“Of course not. I apologize.”

Aeo didn’t reply. He shut his eyes. He suddenly wanted to sleep.

“It isn’t my business, of course. Just educated guesses, if you don’t mind me making them. But there is a reason I ask about what caused your travels up here.”

Leon cleared his throat.

“Have you ever heard of the mephandras?”

Aeo became very awake.

“They’re real?” he asked. “You’ve seen one?”

“Armored bears of unusual size?” Leon said with a chuckle. “No, I haven’t, actually. I’ve only heard word here and there that they used to live on this mountain. Truth be told, they haven’t been seen in decades, and there’s good reason for it.”

“The hunters.” Aeo said. “Right?”

“That’s right, sounds like you and I have the same sources. Hunters chased after them for hundreds of years and drove them right off the mountain. At least that’s what folk say. But it wasn’t just the hunters that did it.” Leon stretched his arm to the side. “Did you know a mephandras was actually a very intelligent beast? They didn’t have the mouths to form words, but they knew the giant wolves that lived up in these caves, and spoke with them regularly. At least that’s what Shera has told me.”

“They could speak?” Aeo said, his eyes wide.

“Well, in a manner of speaking,” Leon said. “As much as Pick can talk to us, in fragments and images. The giant wolves learned of these human hunters coming further and further up the mountain in search of the mephandras. Both the mephandras and the wolves knew that if humans ever discovered their dens up here they would find a reason to exterminate… well, everything. Just as they hunted for mephandras claws and teeth and pelts, they’d put bounties on the giant wolves. Traders would value their fur, hunters would keep trophies and glory, and scientists would study them right out of their homes, understand?”

Leon couldn’t help a laugh.

“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing up here.”

Aeo nodded.

“I’ll tell you about it later,” Leon continued. “The mephandras knew that their homes were becoming more and more limited, their safety less and less guaranteed. But the wolves hadn’t been discovered yet. So in exchange for finding a safe home, the mephandras promised to leave and let the wolves have control of Falas Mountain.”

“The mephandras… left the mountain?” Aeo asked. “How?”

“Cautiously. And not alone. They were too large and too bulky to find their own way without being spotted by humans. No, the wolves promised the mephandras they would help them search for a new home in exchange for keeping the mountain free of hunters who searched for them. The wolves would lead the way while the remaining mephandras followed them off the mountain. If the wolves detected humans, they would… well… they would make the humans…”

<”We would put thoughts into their minds that would convince them to leave.”>

The large cavern door suddenly creaked open. If Pick had seemed like a gigantic creature, then what stepped through the opening made Aeo suddenly very afraid. The giant muzzle of a fully-grown wolf emerged, followed by a mountain of gray-ivory fur led by four powerful limbs. As high as the cave ceiling stood, the wolf nearly stood higher, and had to bend down a fraction to avoid skimming it with its pointed ears. And if it felt strange to receive images from Pick, then listening to the almost audible words of this wolf commanded all of Aeo’s attention as they entered his mind.

“Morning, Shera,” Leon said. “I was just telling Aeo about the meph-”

<”I know. The humans have always come very close to discovering our home, even when the mephandras kept them at bay. Without them and without most of my pack, it is a challenge to even keep watch.”>

At the same time the words dominated his thoughts, he swore he could ‘see’ the image of a trio of mephandras in the ‘background’, two gigantic bear-like creatures covered in tough scales and a tiny one rolling around in the snow. Merely images? Or memories? It made his head ache a bit from both words and images taking center stage in his head simultaneously.

“That’s right, Aeo,” Leon said. “The wolves led the mephandras towards a new home, but many followed them off the mountain and never came back. They must have found a new home themselves.”

Shera closed the door by gripping the rope ‘doorknob’ with her teeth, then circled and laid her great body down neatly in between the campfire and the wall of the cave. Alone she easily took up half the cave floor. She eyed Aeo up and down, and made him wish he wasn’t laying prone and vulnerable.

“This was… how many years ago, Shera? Fifty?”

<”More. I was young. This was our home then, and it is our home now. Pick and I will not leave it.”>

“That’s the problem, Aeo,” Leon said. “If humans ever find this place… Who knows what would happen. That’s why I have to ask if anyone would come looking for you. Not that they would be able to anymore, right Shera?” He looked up at her. “The blizzard would have hidden his tracks for sure. And his scent. No one would know where he disappeared to, and if they did know, they would think he was dead.”

As much as a wolf can look displeased, Shera did, and growled a bit as a thought entered Aeo’s mind.

<”Perhaps.”>

“I think Aeo is as safe as they come. Considering no other human has come up this high before, I believe it’s safe to assume that everything is-”

Leon paused. His attention aimed squarely upon the great wolf.

Aeo heard nothing. Were his ears plugged? He couldn’t help but check them, silly as it was. He lifted himself up as best he could without losing balance of the many rubber containers that covered him. Something was wrong. Well, maybe not wrong, but different, as if the air suddenly became dry. The feeling wasn’t painful, but a little unnerving. Like having one of the rubber water bottles sit on top his head.

“I know you don’t like the idea of another human…” Leon stopped. “…but we don’t know what that means. If we give it some time maybe I can…” Another stop. “I understand that, but don’t you think there’s more at stake here than…?”

Shera became more agitated the more Leon spoke. At first she kept the growling to herself, but soon the growling turned into a snarl. Aeo finally understood, and he felt his heart in his throat. They were having a conversation without him. Shera was excluding him on purpose. The longer this phantom conversation continued, the more pale Leon’s face became, as if the wolf had complete control over his mind. Leon attempted to speak again.

“I… I know that, but I truly think-”

“Um…?” Aeo whispered.

No one paid him any attention. Aeo lifted his arm from beneath the blankets and reached out to Leon’s shoulder. He tugged on the man’s shirt.

“Leon, sir?”

For a moment, he seemed to ignore Aeo’s pleading. When Leon finally looked away from Shera, he seemed distant and distracted, like Shera’s still spoke powerful thoughts into his mind. Leon finally replied.

“What…? Did you…”

“Please, sir,” Aeo said, staring. “What’s… what’s happening?”

Almost immediately, the tightness on Aeo’s head faded. Leon stared at Aeo, and then back at Shera. The snarl had disappeared from her face, though she remained on her front paws and leaning forward in attention. As if the wolf could feel his thoughts and feeling, she gazed at Aeo directly. The thought-voice came clear and more gentle than before.

<”Forgive me, little human. I don’t mean to ignore you. But some things are difficult to explain. We will speak later.”>

“Shera, you… blocked him out?”

Shera said nothing.

“You should have told me, we could have taken this outside!” Leon placed his hand on Aeo’s head, as if he’d suddenly developed a fever. “Are you all right, kid? Are you seeing clearly? How many fingers am I holding up?”

Aeo frowned.

“…two, sir. What’s-”

“Good, that’s really good. I’m sorry, Aeo,” Leon said, moisture beading on his forehead. “I didn’t mean to turn this into an argument in front of you. And I didn’t mean for all this to happen at once.”

“Argument?” Aeo said quietly. “Is something wrong with me?”

Leon fell quiet for a moment, answering the question in a strange way. He looked positively terrible, breathing heavily and sweating as if he’d hiked all the way down the mountain and back down again. He wiped the sweat from his mouth. Shera flicked her tail.

<”No,”> Shera said finally, lifting herself off the ground and turning towards the door. <”Nothing is wrong with you. You are welcome here as long as it takes for you to heal. We will discuss the matter then.”>

Leon quickly stood.

“Shera, you see? There’s something different about…” Leon said. But the wolf was already heading out the door. She stepped away with a surprising grace, much more than Aeo would suspect a creature her size, then just as deftly closing the door behind her with a thud. As if in response to her prompt exit, the hazy purple mist on the far side of the room suddenly faded away with an audible pop as the lit candles on the wall blew out, and at last, the air in the cave drastically lowered in temperature with the door slightly ajar and the campfire dying away.

Leon sighed, his breath becoming quite visible in the sudden cold.

“Are you sure you’re all right, Aeo? I know what it’s like to be ignored by Shera. Feels like your head is ready to burst open.”

Burst? That sounded horrible. Aeo placed a hand on his own forehead. He’d missed something. He certainly didn’t look like Leon, not at all. White as a ghost, and though Leon tried to hide it by rubbing them together, his hands were shaking.

“I’m… fine, really,” Aeo said. “I… I didn’t mean to make Shera mad.” He laid back down and hid his arm under the bottles.

“No, she wasn’t mad at you,” Leon said. He looked down at Aeo. “At me. And trust me, she’s wasn’t mad, exactly. You’d know it if she got mad.”

Leon lifted himself, rolling up his sleeves.

“Or.. maybe you wouldn’t.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Forget I said anything. Now I’ve got to get that ward back up before I leave. Goddess, it got chilly in here fast.”

“You’re leaving?” Aeo asked with a frown. But then a more important question. “Wait, what’s a ward? You mean a magic ward? You can do magic?

“That,” Leon said with a grin, stepping towards the candles, “is a long story.”

“What does it do?” Aeo asked.

“This one is relatively simple, you see. It keeps the cold air from coming through the door, makes it warm and dry in here. Just takes a few candles and the right spirit.”

“Spirit?”

Leon chuckled.

“I’ll tell you about it tonight. I’ve got to go before my few experiments go bad, you see. Don’t worry, my work doesn’t take me too far, only a few caves down the trail. And if you need anything, you can send Pick to come find me. I’ll be back later tonight and I’ll tell you everything. Sound good?”

Leon’s voice sounded hoarse for a moment at the end. He went quiet. For a moment, he placed his fingers on his temples.

“Are… are you all right, sir?” Aeo asked.

Leon cleared his throat and didn’t turn around.

“Oh, of course, certainly.”

Aeo squirmed beneath his fur blanket.

Alyssum – Chapter 3

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With food, water, and a warming body, Aeo slept straight through the night, even with a giant wolf at his side and a strange academic man watching over him. Though, in all honesty, he’d climbed the mountain to give his life to the Goddess. Maybe she was watching over him the whole time.

A depressing set of thoughts swirled in his head even before he awoke, vivid dreams filling his head. He dreamed he stood at the top of the mountain, close enough to tumble down into freedom. But as in most nightmares, something was chasing him. He heard the violent barking of hounds, the shouts of the slave owners calling after him and demanding he return. He cast his gaze backwards, and saw them in the distance, perhaps racing towards him from the treeline. He then turned towards the very summit of Falas, and looked down to see only the misty mountain peaks and the mystery beyond. The merchants that traveled the pass told stories of a jungle on the other side, a rich and untamed land that couldn’t compare to the valley lands where the village lay.

He would travel there. He would find freedom there. Without thought, Aeo took a step forward and fell down the snowy cliffs. Nothing hurt him in this dream, of course, at least at first. He felt weightless as he flew just inches above the snow. He could no longer hear the dogs or the men following him, just the sound of rushing wind cascading past his face.

A cliff face was fast approaching. Aeo tried his best to pull up, or maneuver to the side to avoid it. Nothing worked. Inescapable. And just before he collided with the rocks and snow… He woke up.

A typical dream. He’d had such drifting dreams before. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy them. On the contrary, they gave him a sense of escape that nothing else could. But there was always something concrete that made these dreams end. The ground, a wall, a tree, a cliff face. Aeo could deal with these dreams if they ended any other way. But they always woke him up with a start, even in the early hours of the day.

This strange morning, however, the realization quickly hit him that he wasn’t sleeping in a bed, even the tattered bed in the place he’d once called home. Aeo tugged at his arms to rub his eyes. Heavy weights stopped them from rising.

Oh. The water bottles.

Though no longer warm unto themselves, they felt as heavy and comfortable as the fur blanket that covered them. With some effort, he hauled an arm out from beneath the pair covering it, and cleared his eyes of sleepies. Pain shot from his face at the slightest touch—the bruise. He carefully avoided it as best he could.

Tired. Very tired. The kind of exhaustion that comes from hours of physical exertion. An aware kind of tired that leaves the body useless but the mind clear and active. And a tinge afraid at that particular moment. Finally able to move his head about without too much pain, Aeo looked further to his left. His ears didn’t deceive him. A giant furry monster slept comfortably against the corner of the wall on a pile of furs, curled up all together and breathing steadily. How old was this wolf named Pick? It wasn’t like Aeo could judge it from the thoughts Pick put into his head. Maybe he was still young, like a little kid? He didn’t seem at all hesitant to place his head in Aeo’s lap, after all.

Aeo lay with his back against the sloped back wall of a very wide cave and examined his surroundings as he lay musing. The surprisingly flat stone floor gently curved into the walls as if crafted on purpose, although the cave walls themselves weren’t nearly as neatly organized. Cracks and pockets filled the four walls, and as many as were large enough were filled with unlit wax candles and small charms of varying sizes, colors, and complexity. The total weight of the mountain hovered above the walls, covered with just as many cracks and dotted with the occasional small stalactite and fabric covering, creating a feeling of a well-worn underground dwelling. Opposite of Aeo’s furry resting place, the stone wall curved about halfway across the perimeter until it continued as wooden slats sealed with mud cement. A human-sized entry sat in the middle of the wooden wall, while a larger barn-like door with a rope loop ‘doorknob’ surrounded the human one in combination. It was no surprise who the larger door belonged to, though how the wolves might have helped in the construction of this cavernous dwelling, or even if they did at all, Aeo didn’t know. In the middle of the room was a large campfire ring, complete with a roasting spit and holder for pots of all sizes. And against the wall on the left sat wooden crates and boarded boxes of all sizes, no doubt filled with food and other supplies.

The wax candle crevasses continued along this wall, although a few of them were lit. And, strangely enough, there seemed to be a purple light being cast onto the wall without source from the center of these candles.

Magic. Real magic.

Aeo knew of the concept of magic, the most spectacular happening, of course, in far away lands. Every so often a ‘magician’ would wander into Olvaren offering his talents as entertainment for a few coins and a place to spend the night. These talents would often be nothing more than cards tricks and sleights of hand. But Aeo and the other children had loved them, and naturally couldn’t figure out for their very lives how such tricks were accomplished.

The only time a real wizard had come into town was during the hunts. Their prices weren’t cheap, as Aeo heard rumored, but their skills were often invaluable to other hunters with their abilities to study the habits and trails of the animals and beasts of the mountain, as well as creating strange enchantments for the hunter’s weapons. They didn’t perform for children—they could start campfires fires with nothing but a flick of a wrist, read people’s thoughts, and even turn iron into gold as payment for housing and food. Of course, the ‘iron to gold’ skill was the most often requested of the wizard, though, according to them, was a limited ability and could only be done in very small quantities. Probably wasn’t true, but who knows?

Aeo wished he could turn dirt into gold. He could have bought his own freedom without freezing himself to death.

The man named Leon lay sleeping in the right corner of the room, away from the wooden entrance to the cave. Above him were also lit candles and a strange almost mist-like purple light emanating from them. He didn’t have the least bit idea as to its purpose.

Aeo layed back, fumbling his arm back underneath the water bottles that leaned against his side. What a strange place to sleep, he thought to himself. A dark thought then filled his mind: would Leon force him to go back to the village? His fists clenched. If so, he’d run as fast as he could for the summit and fall down the other side until he reached the forest beyond.

There’s no way. I’m not going back. Even if I freeze to death, I’m not going back.

The enormous door of the cave quietly creaked. Aeo jumped at the sound.

For a moment, there were no other sounds, although as Aeo’s hearing focused, he could hear the roar of the endless wind outside. His stomach turned. Something was out there.

The door opened. The small door, in fact. With it came a light yet lively voice.

“…all the way up the mountain by himself! I know! Stunning!”

Aeo’s eyes widened. It was no human who stepped through the door, but a curious round creature that came hopping into the room like a frog. A spherical frog? Its big spotty black eyes scanned the room for a moment, and hopped inside as you’d expect a frog to hop. Behind it then hopped a smaller frog of the same round form, full of energy and speaking rather loudly with its wide green lips.

“Where is the leet-il hoo-man, Mama?”

The bigger frog turned and put a webbed finger to her lips.

“Hush, little toad,” she said. “You’ll wake all the sleeping folk!”

“But I aw-weady woke She-wa!”

“I am aware, and I’m surprised Shera didn’t gobble you up!” the older frog whispered. The more Aeo listened to her, the more he sounded like a right and proper lady… er, lady-frog. No burbling or frothing at the mouth, as Aeo could imagine a frog speaking. At least in comparison to the adorable small frog. “The boy needs all the rest he can get after his terrible ordeal.”

“What’s a ow-deal?” the littlest frog whispered.

“Trouble, dear Heem, it means trouble.”

“Uh-oh. Twuh-ble.”

The elder frog then hopped to the center of the room, stepping towards the remnants of the once-roaring fire. She kicked at a few of the errant pieces of char for a moment. Then the frog leaned back for a moment as if gathering air. A lot of it. More than it would seem the little frog would be able to take in by herself. Then something clicked quite audibly. Something in the frog’s throat? No doubt a spark, for the frog then belched forward and her mouth erupted in a bright errant flame. It seemed like more than just simple flame, however, as a thick super-heated substance also leaked from the frog’s mouth and brought the campfire to a mighty consistency immediately. Aeo caught the scent of nauseous gas, but it soon passed. And as abrupt and shocking as the display appeared, Aeo heard nothing but a small burst of wind.

“Ah, there we go,” the frog said without skipping a beat. “Much better. Heem, my dear, would you grab a few logs for the fire?”

“Yes, Mama,” the little frog said, hopping to the wood pile next to the crates.

“Now then…”

Aeo suddenly realized why the frogs looked so round—each wore a tightly knit coat of thick fur around themselves, which the female frog then shed and placed close to the fire. Beneath the coat the frog wore a tight dress of a strange dazzling multi-colored material. She walked on two feet as gracefully as any human, though to keep balance while hopping occasionally dropped to all fours without a problem. Her green skin glistened a little in the firelight as her large yellow eyes with dark horizontal pupils expertly scanning the room. She certainly had the wide mouth of a frog, thick green whiskers sticking out the sides somehow adding wisdom to the wrinkles of her face. She stood about a foot and a half, maybe two, and the little one gathering firewood—little sticks and twigs, from the look of it—stood even lower off the ground.

She hopped slowly towards Leon and noticed he was still fast asleep beneath the glowing purple mist. She then hopped closer to Aeo, which instinctually made him pull his feet away. As much as they could move, considering the heavy water bottles and painful aching frostbite.

“Oh. Oh! Oh my! My poor boy!” the frog clapped her webbed hands in surprise. “How long have you been awake? You’ve probably been watching us the whole time! Well, bless the Goddess, I probably scared you silly by starting that fire, didn’t I?”

Aeo didn’t dare nod in agreement.

The frog-lady stepped passed Aeo’s feet towards his head.

“Hello, my dear!” she said enthusiastically, though quietly enough as to not wake Pick. She bowed as she approached. “My name is Hala, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance!”

“H-Hello,” Aeo squeaked.

“Leon told us all about you last night after you fell asleep,” Hala said. “My goodness, what a journey you took to reach us all the way out here! Of course, Shera had to carry you most of the way. It’s a miracle she found you. She told us she was searching for bighorns out of the treeline ridge when she saw a little human out there wandering all by himself. I have a feeling she wanted to eat you, but she carried you up here regardless! Wasn’t that so kind of her?”

“Eat me…?” Aeo whispered. “Wh-Who’s Shera?”

“Oh, you haven’t met her yet, that’s right!” Hala bent down into a squat in front of Aeo, then rose back up in a stretch. “She’s Pick’s Mama, and a right big wolf for sure! She certainly keeps us all safe from the nasty critters that roam the mountain, yes she does. She’s been tending to the bighorners all night long, the poor dear. She usually sleeps in this cave with Leon, but for some reason she decided to sleep in the barn! Isn’t that funny?”

Aeo decided it was not.

“The hoo-man a-wake?”

Up hopped the little frog, now shed of its fur coat as well. Her fur coat, Aeo noticed, since she wore a dress. This dress, however, was less conservative, more like a skirt and a top with the same mysterious material. She took a few steps towards Aeo’s face and folded her green little arms.

“The hoo-man isn’t leet-il,” she said. “He’s biiiig.”

“Well, he’s little to other humans, Heem dear,” Hala said, placing her hands on the little frog’s shoulders. “Aeo, this is Heem. She’s very excited to meet you! Heem, this is Aeo. Be very careful now, he’s not feeling very well at the moment. No jumping on him, okay? Perhaps later when he’s feeling up to it.”

Heem looked very disappointed at this.

“Aww.”

A thought suddenly came to Aeo’s mind.

<A frog jumping on the back of a wolf.>

“Piiiick!” Heem exclaimed, wasting no time hopping towards the awakened wolf. Pick was indeed awake, eyeing the situation with interest. Before Heem could hop on his back, Pick whined and yawned big enough to devour the little frog in a single bite. Heem didn’t seem the least big concerned, and climbed up Pick’s neck to sit on his back. “Big floo-fie puppy!”

“Good to see you up, you young hound dog!” Hala said. “Sleep well?”

Pick growled and blinked. He then looked over at Aeo.

<The color teal. A human jumping up and down.>

Aeo looked down at his toes and tried to wiggle them. They felt inflamed and painful, even though they still felt frozen.

“I don’t… I don’t know,” Aeo said.

“Oh Pick,” said Hala. “He won’t be on his toes for a good long while. Frostbite is no little thing, after all! Why, I remember getting frostbite on my toes, I had to sit in the thermal spring for a week before I could start hopping again. As a matter of fact, that’s not a bad idea…”

A gruff voice then rose to fill the cave.

“Where do you think I filled up Aeo’s water bottles?”

“Oh dear,” said Hala. “Good morning Leon! I do hope we didn’t wake you… Though I’m certain we did.”

“Oh, don’t worry, you did,” he said with a chuckle, as he lifted himself to sit. Aeo had fallen asleep much earlier than Leon, and hadn’t seen him get dressed in the dark sleeveless shirt he now wore. “But I’m glad you did. I have a lot to do today, and I might as well get started.”

“More of those experiments of yours? You know, the longer you’re down in those caves, the more I start to worry about you falling into holes, or getting trapped from a cave-in, or blowing yourself up…”

“No need to worry yourself, Hala,” Leon replied. “Everything I do is perfectly safe. I’m simply studying plants and rocks, not spelunking.” He paused. “Well, maybe a little bit.”

“Hmm-umm,” said Hala, tapping the floor with her foot. Leon looked over at Aeo.

“How are you feeling this morning?”

Aeo shrugged, which was challenging to see from beneath the blankets.

“I’m cold, sir…” he said honestly.

“I’m sure you are. Thank you for starting the fire back up, Hala, that was very kind of you. I’ll go refill those water bottles for you, Aeo.”

As he lifted himself to get dressed, Hala hopped up.

“Not a problem at all, Mr. Sirelu!” said Hala. “I’m happy to help this human boy back on his feet!” She then turned to the little frog proudly sitting upon the wolf pup’s back. “All right, little Heem, it’s time for us to go clean the hot springs today. You promised you would!”

“Waaah!” cried Heem immediately, kicking her feet and pounding Pick’s back with her fists. “But I wanna ride Pick!”

“Pick has other duties, Heem, like taking care of Aeo while Leon is gone! Don’t make me go up there and get you!”

Aeo decided it was difficult to make out the individual emotions on the frogs’ faces without hearing the words they spoke, but it seemed as if Heem’s expressions changed from outrage to sadness and then quiet acceptance. The little frog hopped off of Pick’s back and made her way back to the campfire when she gingerly put on her sphere coat. Hala did the same, and spoke as she did so.

“It’s so wonderful to have you here with us, Aeo!” she said quite excitedly. “When you’re well enough to walk, I’d love for you to meet the rest of my family. They’re not as happy-sure as Heem and I are about more humans living up here, but I know you’ll make yourself a place here in no time!”

Hala stepped over to the wood pile and made it a point to throw one more small bundle into the campfire.

“No need to worry, Hala,” Leon said as he buttoned up a long-sleeved shirt he’d produced from a small crevasse in the wall. “I’ll take care of it.”

“If you’re sure, dear!” she said, her round form hopping towards the door. “We’ll see you later, Leon! Aeo! Pick!” They then disappeared through the door before closing it shut behind them.

“She’s such an interesting woman,” Leon said with a laugh. “So unlike the rest of her family.”

Pick sat up and started panting.

<The color green. A wolf licking a frog.>

“Yes, I like them too,” Leon said. “And you know Heem loves you, don’t you Pick?”

Pick yipped once and laid back down on his fur blankets.

Aeo closed his eyes. Life was quickly losing sense.

Image by AngiWallace

Alyssum – Chapter 2

original

A terrible thought arose in the mind of the frozen boy.

<A sightless corpse, frozen to stone and bone, never to move again.>

“I know. He’s lucky. He’s still breathing, isn’t he?”

Another thought rose.

<Bone cracking in the jaws of a great beast.>

“No, you are not eating him. That’s why I’m here, to make you better food, remember?”

A third image crossed his mind.

<Bone cracking in the jaws of a much smaller beast.>

“No, Pick isn’t eating him either! He’s not your dessert, and that’s final. Go check the stables if you’re so hungry, eh? The stew will be done shortly.”

A great beast snorted in response.

The boy felt warm fur beneath his fingertips, the weight of a thick blanket covering him, and an enormous pillow behind his head. The smell of roasting meat filled his lungs. Something was very wrong. Besides, of course, the fact that he didn’t have the strength to even raise a finger. He tried opening his eyes, but the fire light proved too much to handle. He couldn’t feel his toes… exactly. Something pressed against the bottoms of his feet, warming them.

He wasn’t dead. Not yet.

A strange concept emerged in the boy’s mind, as if placed there by something else.

<A large wet tongue lapping against a human face.>

A voice answered the thought.

“If you mean to eat him, absolutely not. If you mean to be his friend, then… fine. Warm him up a little. But let the poor boy sleep for a while, will you?”

A monster approached. Large enough to block the light. Its footfalls cracked to stone and slid across dirt, and a great body came to rest against the boy’s side. Then, a large weight settled across his legs, and the smell of a wet dog arose. The boy tried to open his eyes wide, and a face came into blurry view.

A face? What made the boy think it was a face? Not a human face. Wait, a dog’s face. Or was it a wolf? It was too big to be a wolf’s face; the boy thought it a matter of fact that wolves do not grow to such sizes. The head of this wolf lay as large as an apple crate, as large as a wolf should be by itself. A great black nose sniffed at the air like bellows, a gray-and-brown muzzle sat across the boy’s lap, and bright reflective eyes darted to and fro to some other points of interest in the room in which the boy lay. The boy strained to lift his head, and saw a pair of furry ears curiously rotate as it heard a myriad of homemade noises.

The wolf growled as if tired. The vibrations shook the boy’s bones. His fear may have been frozen before, but like the rest of him, it began to thaw. The anxiety grew quickly. Try as he might to still his timid voice, he couldn’t help a small squeak of panic.

The wolf’s closest eye quickly switched upon him, and the whole head rose and cocked to one side.

A thought rose in the boy’s mind.

<A human rising from bed and smiling.>

Mostly true. Except the boy did not feel like smiling. A voice then called from further inside the room, as if alerted by the thought in the boy’s mind.

“Are you sure, Pick? Is he awake?”

The wolf bent his great head down and sniffed at the boy; the stale, humid dog-breath might as well have been steam. It growled and yelped a quiet affirmative. Then, the prediction came to pass: the wolf’s tongue emerged and shoved the boy’s hair to the side with a single terrible lick. The wolf was tasting him! The boy tried to lift his arms to fight against it, but they remained uselessly at his side.

“Ah, he is awake!”

A dark figure appeared in place of the firelight, and stood above the boy. It certainly didn’t look wolf-shaped. No, a man. Everything was still blurry. The man knelt down in front of the boy and rested his hand on the boy’s forehead. Then his nose, and his ears.

“Well, kid, looks like you’re not a popsicle. That’s good news, right?”

At this moment, the boy realized he’d been shivering terribly. He opened his mouth, and the cold of the mountain fell out of it.

“Wh-Wh… whe… wh-where…”

“Hey, it’s all right my boy, no need to worry yourself, I promise. Just relax and warm up. You were out in the cold for hours.”

The boy blinked, and his stomach twisted. The man came forward and sat himself down at the boy’s side, pushing the giant wolf away in the process. Not only did the wolf not straight away eat the man in response, the wolf simply growled in protest and stepped over both the man and the boy. It then laid its great body down and placed its head across the boy’s lap. Its paw gently dug against the fur blanket, and the wolf watched him with an adorable brown eye like a patient puppy. The boy wasn’t sure which one to be afraid of first, man or beast.

The boy had no idea what to make of the man. He dressed like a scholar or a teacher, in fine trousers, a loose-fitting doublet, and a thin leather jacket with a wide collar. He also wore thin spectacles that surely gave him an age beyond his own. He didn’t seem at all like the hardy specimen of manhood that would live this high up a mountain. His tan face reflected something foreign, though from where Aeo had no idea. His words were very plain, however, giving no hint.

“By the Goddess, I can’t believe you decided to climb Falas in a blizzard like this,” the man said. “You’re one brave boy. Put you down for a whole day. You must have been running away from something fairly frightening to force you this far up.”

The man placed a hand on the boy’s face, just beneath his left eye. The touch reminded the boy of the terrible bruise that dominated his face, and the fact that blood was slowly rushing to the spot.

“I’m guessing you didn’t do this to yourself.”

A thought rose in the boy’s mind.

<The color purple. A human falling out of a tree.>

“Yes, Pick,” the man said to the wolf, petting its nose. “Something like that.”

The boy’s eyes widened. The man could ‘hear’ the thoughts too. The man noticed the boy’s silent stare and smiled, pointing to his temple.

“I’m sure you’ve never heard a wolf speak before, have you?”

The boy slowly shook his head.

“Apologies, I suppose we should introduce ourselves. My name is Leon Sirelu…” The man placed a hand on the wolf’s nose. “…this is Pick. And you’ll meet his mama Shera when she comes back. Welcome to our little home on the mountain.”

Pick gurgled and licked the fur blanket.

<A human boy petting a wolf’s head.>

Leon laughed at the thought.

“Yes, you little scoundrel,” said Leon, leaning over to pet Pick. “I’m sure you’ll be great friends.”

“Wh-why… Why d-does…” the boy whispered.

Leon waited patiently.

“H-How does… h-he… talk… in m-my head?”

“I don’t know for certain,” Leon answered. “It’s curious, isn’t it? I’ve actually tested a few things with Pick. Did you know you can hear them from about half a mile away? And they can whisper too, so you’re the only one who can hear them. It’s as plain as if they were talking out loud. Though some of the images they use tend to get… lost in translation. Especially from you, eh Pick? It takes some practice to understand sometimes.”

Pick blinked a few times and started to pant.

<The color green. A wolf howling.>

“That’s right, it’s fun to talk.”

“Wh-What… d…does… g-green…” the boy attempted to ask.

“I believe that means he’s happy,” said Leon. “So when he howls, or talks, it makes him happy. Isn’t that right Pick?”

Pick let out a small airy howl.

“All right, down to business,” said Leon, bending forward. His hands reached under the blankets and lifted the boy’s arm up and out. Leon grasped his hand; the warmth filled it immediately, and made the boy’s skin burn. “Can you feel my hand?”

The boy nodded.

“Good. Hmm, you’re still cold. I’ll get you a couple warming pads for your fingers. At least you managed to keep them warmer than your toes. How about them? Can you feel the heat down there?”

The muscles felt tense and sore. But the fur blanket slowly wiggled back and forth.

“Okay. Try not to move them too much right now. I’m sorry to say you’ve got a mild case of frostbite there. They’ve started to turn a might black. Your ears, too. It’ll take some time for the right color to come back to them.”

Leon peeled the fur blanket back, and lifted a rubber bottle from the boy’s chest, testing its temperature. So that’s where the weight came from.

“B-Black?” the boy whispered frightfully.

“Oh, only slightly, nothing to worry too much about,” said Leon. “Nothing some time can’t make better. I’ll go refill a couple of these bottles in a few minutes. In the meantime, get some rest. I guarantee you’ll start feeling better after a good nap. And I’ll leave Pick to make sure you stay toasty warm.” He pat Pick’s nose. “Can you do that for me, boy?”

<The color green. A bright fire in a circle of rocks.>

“That’s right. Just don’t light him on fire, right?”

Pick let out a series of grunts that sounded like dull laughter. Leon lifted himself, but stopped midway.

“Oh, before I go… Do you have a name, kid?”

The boy cleared his throat.

“Aeo, s-sir,” he said.

“Aeo. Wonderful! Very good.” Leon jumped to his feet. “And we have some elk stew cooking over the fire if you’re interested. I’m sure you are! So don’t fall back asleep just yet, perhaps? You won’t want to miss it. A full belly makes sleep all the better anyway.”

Leon rose to walk to the other side of the room. Aeo might have stayed quiet and went back to sleep, or waited until the food was done. But there was something deep inside him that needed attention, something that Leon would certainly need to know.

“W-Wait, L-Leon, sir… Um, I…”

“Yes?” Leon said.

“I… Uh, I n-need… to u-use the toilet.”

Leon stopped.

“Oh. Of course you do, of course, um… I suppose we should get that figured out now, shall we? Don’t want you standing just yet. Oh, where did I put that bucket…?”

Alyssum – Chapter 1

Winter blizzard

No one travels across the Falas Mountains during the night, especially in the midst of torrential snow fall. No one who knew better. Even those with a sense of urgency to cross rarely stepped foot above the frost line after sunset if they wished to see the same sun rise again. Common reason suggested the mighty winds that passed swiftly through the difficult roads the primary suspect in every wayfarer’s disappearance since permanent winter fell on this jagged patch of earth ages ago. But even the most unwary traveler wore a coats of fur in these parts. No, something much more sinister lived in the crags and caverns, and everyone within leagues knew it. And those that didn’t know it were soon informed.

Despite this, a lone figure shivered in the cold among the towering fir trees, blindly treading slopeward, away from the village of Olvaren at the base of the mountain. A boy. A sensible being might think him foolish and stupid, and drag him back away from hypothermia or worse. He wore no coat or jacket, but the rags of a slave, with thin leather soles the only thing keeping his feet from the snow.

But there was no going back. He couldn’t. The bruises on his arms, the swelling black eye, and the dried blood clinging to the side of his right leg proved he no longer belonged anywhere. Death on his own terms. Those were the thoughts that passed through his trembling mind. Either he made it to freedom on the other side of Falas, or… He’d find peace in the hands of the Goddess.

Simple as that.

The frigid air of the pass embraced the lone boy like a blanket made of glass. Whether his toes still existed he wasn’t completely sure. Ice clung to his hair, and the wind stung his face like jagged needles made of stone.

It doesn’t matter, he thought to himself. I’m not going back.

Despite the lateness of the hour and the absence of the moon, the snow reflected enough light to give the boy some idea of the trail ahead of him. Or lack of one. The boy could no longer tell. The howling blizzard that surrounded him blinded him, especially to any creatures that might dwell in the forests beyond.

His hands slowly lost feeling. He lifted them to his lips and blew; the warmth brought feeling back for a moment. The wind sapped it away in an instant.

What else had the men in the marketplace told him of the mountain? Wolves, packs of them, roamed the hills searching for any opportunity to steal from the shepherds’ flocks. Woolly bears lived close to the thermal rivers, smart enough to wait besides the unmeltable torrents for an upstream-jumping fish or two. Eagles with discerning vision made homes atop the trees, soaring down from lofty heights for food. And every so often, hunters—the ones that braved the trek without camping the night—would take aim at moose and deer that lay trapped between the frozen rock of the mountain and the predators of the canyons. All these creatures of creation stood for symbols of the goddess Tiala’s power, and reflected her diverse attributes of strength, cunning, and endurance. At least, that’s what Her priests taught at the modest commune back in Olvaren. When given time, the boy used to sit and listen to the sermons, and wonder if the goddess had time to give an orphan slave. Maybe now he would find out.

According to tales, however, there lived in these mountains a terrible creation that had no place in Tiala’s domain, and profaned Her mountain. Every so often, when the priests had the monetary means to do so, the call would go forth for the strongest and most resourceful hunters in the province to hunt a beast known as a mephandras. Twenty foot tall in size and terrible in temperament, the boy had heard it described as a feral bear with scales and spikes in place of fur and a tusked maw that could rend a man to pieces in a second. Just as rare as the call, even rarer were stories of successful hunts against this baleful monstrosity. According to one such tale, a group of intrepid hunters once lured a mephandras to the foot of a steep cliff with a series of explosive traps. Cornered by men with firearms and spears, the beast roared—certainly loud enough to alert the village below—and made the hunters deaf through the sheer ferocity of it. Nevertheless, it was trapped. With a single explosive charge placed some hours earlier high above on the cliffside, the hunters brought the whole mountain down upon it. When the smoke and dust cleared, the creature seemed dead, but that wasn’t enough for the hunters. They quickly filled it with bullets and spearheads enough to bring down an entire herd of elk, and even made use of one last explosive on top of its head.

It took days to harvest even a portion of the creature’s poisonous meat, hide, and colossal bones, which were quickly promised at great value to the province’s merchants. It might have brought prosperity to everyone in the process. It might have ended the tale happily there.

But the mephandras had a mate.

Whether the village watch been drunk, sleeping, or both, it didn’t matter. An even larger malevolent specimen tracked the hunters from the mountain, and brought death and destruction with it. Into the midst of an impromptu festival held to celebrate the hunter’s great accomplishment, the creature charged, killing the hunters and many of the townsfolk immediately. It bucked and heaved and roared, tearing through stone buildings and storefronts like a child through so many wooden blocks. The villagers retreated to the town hall and rallied as much defense as possible, and to their surprise, managed to hold the creature at bay. Or, perhaps, the mephandras wasn’t interested in carnage for its own sake. It found the bones of its beloved placed in the village square, and proceeded to mourn quite violently for hours. Bullets were fired from the hall, but none found purchase into this great creature’s hide.

It took three days for the creature to finally lose interest in the village and the bones. It took the largest bone in its razor-filled mouth and departed for the mountain. Where it wandered no villager desired to find out. The rest of the now-frozen carcass of the slain mephandras was never sought after, and the remaining spoils of the hunt only just covered the costs necessary to repair the damage wrought to the village.

Or so the tale was told. Was it true? Apparently, many hundreds of years had passed since. Trackers and merchants that visited Olvaren insisted they knew the descendants of those slain hunters, and the claw marks made by some fell beast could be seen quite clearly on the walls of the old hall that had once served as the village center. And while hunters were still hired to hunt the mephandras every decade or so, not a single one had been spotted for over a century.

Perhaps they were all gone. Perhaps the mountain was not as dangerous as everyone in the village made it seem. True or not, the boy’s thoughts centered on encountering such a monster on the mountain. Perhaps it would find the boy, and put him out of his misery. Perhaps it would carry him over the mountain and place him on the other side, right as rain.

Or maybe the boy was going out of his mind from the cold.

The boy raised his hands to his face. He couldn’t feel a thing. His teeth had long since passed chattering. Every step he took was uncertain, since he’d long lost feeling in his legs.

I’m not going back. I’m not going back.

A howl echoed across the snow, just barely audible above the frigid wind. The boy didn’t hear it, too obsessed with the cold. Then a second howl cried out much louder and clear to the boy’s right side. This snapped him out of his frozen trance.

For the first time in several hours, the boy’s feet stopped walking. It felt strange.

He waited. He watched the fir trees dance back and forth, the giant snowflakes falling in large clumps as stars from the sky. Something watched him in the trees. He didn’t know how, but he knew it. Or maybe delirium had set in.

A shadow passed through the trees, perhaps fifty yards away. Too dark to tell. The boy wasn’t afraid. His fear had been frozen away. He simply stood like a pole buried in dirt. His eyes felt tired, somehow burning when the rest of his body solidified. He’d been walking for such a long time. Perhaps the shadow would let him sleep.

It approached. The image of a bear. A mephandras. It had to be. Its jagged scales whipped in the wind, its deep-throated growl echoing across the snow.

I’m not going back.

The rigid boy suddenly felt gravity. A terrible weight. His knees could no longer sustain themselves. He felt the world spin, and its surface collided with him. The snow gave place for him as if he belonged there all along. His perception darkened to match the night sky, and he felt himself drift off into a sea of starlight.

Top image by Evgeni Dinev Photography

Learning About Bipolar Disorder

Taken through a lecture given by Dr. Patrick McKeon, Consultant Psychiatrist at St. Patrick’s University Hospital. Can be found here. Just found out I can’t post videos on my blog without paying monthly. Boo, WordPress, boooo.

  • Bipolar disorder comes in a variety of exciting flavors, including typical ups and downs of bipolar, mostly depressive episodes with small manic stages that are hard to spot, and even completely manic or depressive.

Didn’t really realize this. There’s a spectrum to bipolar that can be difficult to nail down without signs, such as antidepressants making no difference or even making the depression worse, in my case.

  • Depression and mania of bipolar disorder can be thought of as a turning wheel, depression moving slower, mania turning faster. It’s all about the rate at which the mind functions. Depression makes processing information, recalling information (memory), and concentration more difficult. Sees a blank image when viewing the future, and has no effort because no goal exists. Sees only negative aspects of decisions.

There are definitely times when my mind varies its rate of thinking. It’s no wonder I have such a hard time expressing myself during my worst depression episodes. No wonder school is so hard at the moment. Besides my mind concentrating on things other than what it considers ‘useless’ information. Even though I know I have a goal of getting my bachelor’s degree, it continues to seem too distant and far away.

  • Elation (or mania) and hypomania (a lesser form of mania) is the complete opposite. Everything is sped up, everything attracts the attention. The sped-up mind and memory absorbs nothing or very little. Mind darts from one image to another. Judgement becomes impaired (only sees the positives), and jumps from one decision to another.

You want a reason for the amount of games I own on Steam? And how many of them I’ve only played for, say, and hour or two before I never look at them again? My mania would ignore the financial consequences of my decisions. Before I went on my current round of medication, my mind would spin so fast I couldn’t keep up with all the thoughts, often depressive ones (which I’m recognizing were mixed episodes of depression and mania, which I didn’t think were possible). It spin faster and faster until eventually it would all break down into a panic attack. Or, for brief shining moments, I would feel ‘normal’ and write fifteen pages of a story in a single sitting, never to come back to it again.

Depression:

  • F: Feel. Low, sad, depressed, anxious.
  • E: Energy. Tiredness of mind and body not relieved by sleep
  • S: Sleep. Not enough, broken, or too much.
  • T: Thinking. Difficulty concentrating or focusing.
  • I: Interest. Unable to interact with the world appropriately, especially with important aspects (food, sex, religion, loved ones, hobbies, etc.)
  • V: Value of self. Not good, uselessness, sinful or damned.
  • A; Aches. Pains, headaches, strained muscles.
  • L: Live. Not wanting to live, suicidal.

Mania:

  • F: Feel. Optimistic.
  • E: Energy. High or super high.
  • S: Sleep. Need little sleep.
  • T: Thinking. Racing thoughts, hard to get to sleep. Rapid eye movements.
  • I: Interest. Jumps to a thousand and one things.
  • V: Value. Great or greatest.
  • A: Aches. Pain disappears.
  • L: Lives. Going to live forever.

Really interesting: in high manic stages, one might feel depressed (weepy, frustrated, even angry) even as their minds and thoughts are going a million miles an hour. Mixed moods. That was me a month ago. Things felt great, but every little thing would get my tear ducts flowing. Now I’m noticing that nothing gets me to that point. I feel empty. I think I just spotted my first real long-term manic phase. It starts as early as June and ended about mid-August. School stopped it. Ugh.

  • Disruption in relationships
  • Use of drugs and alcohol
  • Debt (see-sawing financial situations)
  • Suicide

A third of people with high degrees of depression might actually have bipolar disorder–it’s hard to spot it because no one goes to a doctor when experiencing highs. Environment can trigger bipolar disorder, when there is a high genetic chance. There isn’t one gene that can be nailed down to cause bipolar, it’s more complex than that. Sleep disruption, stimulants, and drugs will usually have a more powerful effect on those with the condition.

I’m taking Lamictal (lamotrigine) and oxcarbezepine for mood stabilization and risperidone for dealing with highs… Lamictal can be used for lifting lows, but I wonder if I’m taking enough at the moment. I’ll have to ask that next time I go to the doctor.

DOs and DON’Ts

  • Know your illness
  • Acknowledge it and talk about it
  • Know the signs and symptoms

That’s what I’m trying to do. 🙂

  • Get emotional support
  • Spot the illness
    • (FESTIVAL symptoms)
    • Personal signs (patterns and actions that appear when high or low)
    • Appoint a spotter, someone who can identify the changes
  • Watch the amount of caffeine
  • Deal with hurt, let things out in the open

 

In all reality, I’m just searching for a way to deal with what I’m feeling at the moment. And I don’t know what I’m feeling. I wrote myself a very depressing letter yesterday and then crossed it all out. I didn’t tear it out of my book. I think some of what’s there is worth keeping, if only for the memory of writing it. Right now, I’m trying to search for this answer: is it me or my depression that is separating me from receiving the Spirit? I want to say it’s a combination of both… but that’s seems too quick and easy an answer. I find it difficult to say prayers and read scriptures because of my lack of emotions and difficulty of concentration. And my want of isolation and control keeps me away from church… and school. And this leads to further depression and lack of control. Exercise does nothing much more than making me tired, and food reminds me of the horrible condition of my teeth.

I guess I just need to do these things until I start to feel something positive. But to me, it’s like saying I’ll go for a drive and see if that makes the blindfold I’m wearing fall off. There’s a disconnect there. The answer doesn’t lead to emotional success. All I can do for the moment I watch for these signs and see what triggers what. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to make it through every day.

I’m writing a story again, which hopefully I’ll post here–I’m not manic at the moment, so that’s a success unto itself I guess. So there’s that. All alone, listening to music, and managing my mind into a single track… I’ll stick to writing. It’s the best of all possible worlds.