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Beyond the Skystream

Story: Beyond the Skystream
Rated: T
Words: 3,443
Summary: The last thing Alice expects is to die on her birthday and visit the lights in the sky, but she discovers that the "other side" isn't quite finished yet.
Notes: This story has been sitting in my laptop's hard-drive for almost a year now. I'm rather fond of it and have only really committed myself to it as a novel this year (2011) for NaNoWriMo. I've got the whole thing planned out (kinda) but yesh. It's written for children aged roughly 12+. I hope I've done a good job... This is enjoyable to write as much as it is a challenge.

 
SILTH BLOOD

When growing up, it is mandatory that your parents always tell you not to go against the laws of man and Mist. What they don’t teach you is how to know for certain if the laws of MAM are justified.
            I have never been a person who is easily shaken and I have always prided myself on being down to earth. Sure, I am prone to being taken in by the odd Mist Play, it’s near impossible not to be; especially now that Mist Plays have branched into the more remote towns. And sometimes, I lose my ‘cool’ because I am only human.
            But as I knelt there on the muddy plane of Silth, drenched in rain and his blood, I lost the last thread of nerve I had been clinging to.
            The last thing he needed was for me to cry, but how could I not? How could I even pretend things would be OK? “Don’t leave me,” he sobbed. All I could do was stroke his marred face. His bloody cheek felt cold under my touch and I wished the rain would stop for him.
            Was this how it was meant to end? No matter how well I had carefully judged our position, was this moment now an unavoidable ending? All I knew was: if this was the end, I could never go back after this. I couldn’t even remember my favourite Sister’s face.

 

COLOURS IN THE SKY

Ever since the year two-thousand the night sky has gradually filled with scintillating light. Whoever said that ‘seeing was believing’ was not quite correct, for whenever Alice Eidem wandered down to Tromsø Lake with her friends, it was almost impossible not to stare at the sky and believe that what she saw was real. The lights spread across the heavens like ripples of water.
            Science said that the auroras emitted light because of photons of oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere. Those atoms got excited by colliding with solar wind particles, which had something to do with the Earth’s magnetic field; Alice was not quite sure of the exact details; but as the atoms got excited or returned to their normal state, they emitted visible energy.
The very idea of ‘visible energy’ filled Alice with a strange zeal, like she had her own energy that glowed too. She always imagined hers to be pink and orange.

            The lights in the sky danced from green to brownish-red, or blue to yellowy-green and Alice could never decide which stream of colour she wanted to take her to Heaven when she died.
            “Some say,” whispered Alice’s mother as she tucked her into bed as a child, “that the lights are portals to other worlds. But I think,” she continued to whisper, stroking Alice’s long brown hair, “that the lights are a stream to Heaven. When you die the lights look after your soul until you have reached the other side – the end of the stream.”
            “A stream to where?” Alice whispered back.
            “To Heaven, dear.”
            “Are there lights in the Earth, too, maybe?”
            “Very maybe. Maybe they’re too deep to see, and maybe they are a different kind of stream. Perhaps they stream energy into our feet to make us follow destiny.”
            “What’s your path in life, mamma? Do you know what mine is?”
            Her mother smiled and the skin around her eyes crinkled. “No, dear. Nobody knows their path in life. If we did, we might try and resist being led to our fate.”
            Alice thought about this for a moment.
            “What’s our fate?”
            “It’s the end of our life. It is how and when we will die.”
            Alice closed her eyes for a while, enjoying the soothing touch of her mother’s hand, when a question struck her. “Does everyone go to the lights in the sky, like, even bad people?”
            Again, her mother smiled with worldly wisdom. “Even bad people.”
            It was the year three-thousand, an era where the lights in the sky had finally spread across the entire world. The month was October and it was Alice’s fifteenth birthday. Her hair had grown long over the years, almost long enough to sit on, and her friend’s envied how well she kept it.
            Tonight, October fourteenth, she had decided was going to be her best birthday party ever. After some persuasion (and with the help of her best friend, Janne), Alice’s mother relented on letting them celebrate near one of the jetties on Tromsø Lake. Despite the freezing weather, nobody turned down the invitation to attend; an amount of ten people.
            The most important guest had been the first to reply. Alice closed her eyes and dived onto her bed with a squeal, then read the cyber message again. His name at the end of his message glowed on the screen of her portable device: Christoffer. She stared at the ceiling and saw his sculpted face, imagined running into him in the school corridors, clenched her fist as if his hand was close by. Alice pined for the day of her party.


It was about ten o’clock at night and there were no artificial lights around to blank out the beautiful sky that Alice loved so much. There were no clouds, too, so the stars winked and the sky-stream illuminated up their secluded spot. The grass whispered in the cold air and the lake lapped in and out of the nearby jetty supports.
            They huddled around a decent fire dressed in thick, heavy coats. The oldest of them, Svein with his soft manners and calming smile, strummed familiar songs on his guitar. The music echoed across the lake as if the glassy surface was made for dancing.
            Happiness filled every limb in Alice's body. She thought that the joy inside of her must be shining through her skin. She stared at her hands in the fire light and admired the way the orange glow flickered across her knuckles and fingers.
            When Christoffer found them, it required all of Alice's will not to block out everyone around her. She couldn't look away, felt fire crackle from her chest and into her belly. Her legs trembled, her lungs compressed, her cheeks burned. Unable to express herself, Alice looked across at Janne. Her dearest friend smirked and Alice laughed, knowing she understood. With an awkward wave and breezy greeting, Christoffer chose to sit beside Alice.
            Her friends had brought Happy Drinks to the event and everyone had a blue bottle to themselves, giggling as the sweet liquid filled their stomachs and lightened their heads. The petite cakes Alice provided – made by her mother – were devoured within an hour. One girl had copious amounts of crisps to share and Svein had a huge box of marshmallows. Everyone talked so loud as they ate that Alice didn’t notice the rustling grass any more. The Happy Drink had warmed up her cheeks and filled her with energy, repelling the cold night.
            Part of her energy and flush came from sitting so close to Christoffer. Alice had wanted to sit beside Christoffer for as long as she could remember. Her limbs were tense, constantly aware of his body. The Happy Drink helped to loosen her tongue, however.
            “I can't stand Fpage, the messages people post make me wonder why they're on my friend's list,” said Janne.
            “Absolutely,” said Alice. “Such stupid people.”
            “Oh thanks,” laughed Christoffer. “Aren't we friends on Fpage?”
            “Yeah, I deleted you first!” Blood surged against Alice's cheeks as she joked. Janne cackled and she stole the conversation, her loud voice talking over the others.
            “Let’s go stand on the jetty for a while,” Christoffer whispered to Alice, leaning close so the others wouldn’t hear. Alice’s heart began to pound hard against her chest. “I’m really hot by the fire,” he continued. “You’ll see the sky better, too. It’s dark.”
            Alice nodded dumbly in agreement. “Yeah, sure. Let’s do that.”
            A few of the others queried where they were going when they stood up, but no one followed. She was alone with Christoffer in the dark! Each step she took felt like she was flying, which was (in part) down to the Happy Drink, but it seemed like something more to her.
            The wood clunked under their footfalls as Alice and Christoffer stepped onto the jetty and strolled towards the end. They could hear Janne singing an old folk song called Eg ra framand, her haunting voice echoing across the lake. A shiver ran down Alice’s spine, her eyes glued on the lights in the sky.
            “Are you cold?” asked Christoffer.
            “A little.”
            “Come sit next to me." He lowered himself down and dangled his feet off the edge of the jetty. Alice copied, struggling to breathe as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. His face grazed her cheek. Christoffer's hair and eyes looked jet black in the dim light and it took all of her courage to meet his gaze.
            A surge of emotions rushed through her body and each breath seemed to squeeze her lungs. All Alice could think about was kissing. It was more than she had hoped for but the way he could make her feel with just a look was stifling.
            He leaned a little closer. It was up to her now. The last inch between them was for her to cross. Alice leaned closer, glancing at his lips and felt her stomach disappear as she decided to make the final move. Their first kiss was awkward and didn’t feel as good as she had imagined, nor did the second. When they tried a third time, however, their lips melded and everyone else disappeared. Her first kiss was with him. They smiled at each other, the sky-stream reflecting in his eyes. Alice shifted to cuddled him, unsure if she wanted more. What if the others saw them?
            And then her euphoria turned to panic as he held her tight, forced her head and kissed her again. He didn’t stop. He wouldn’t stop. His lips pressed harder. When she pushed him away, her breath heavy, Christoffer pulled a quick, nonchalant smile and then tried again. He ran his fingers into her hair and touched his nose to hers, tilting her backwards and Alice was afraid.
            “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered and kissed her again as if that statement had given him permission. When his hand gripped her upper arm in a steel grip, Alice made to protest but he bit her lip and tears filled her eyes. “Sh, sh,” he said. “Don’t get silly.”
            “STO -” he clamped a hand over her mouth, his thumb digging into her cheek and the giddy effects of the Happy Drink vanished. She gripped his wrist, trying to tug his hand away.
            “It’s OK,” he said and then pushed. He pushed Alice down onto the jetty. When his hand loosened, she made to shout, but he pressed his hand back so hard that she began to cry. “It’s OK,” he said again, leaning over and kissing her neck. It wasn’t OK. She didn’t like how strong he was or how harsh his kisses were. His free hand was roaming across the top of her jeans, making her squirm.
            Though it hurt her lips, Alice managed to open her mouth and then bit his hand as hard as she could. Christoffer yelped, letting go, and a short scream burst out of Alice. Scrabbling against the decking, she tried to escape, but he grabbed her ankle and rushed to silence her again. His grip was fierce.
            Without thinking and without hesitation, Alice threw herself off the side of the jetty.
            The breath was knocked out of her. She had forgotten how cold it was. The lake would freeze over this month. As soon as she had plunged beneath the surface, her limbs went weak and her long hair tangled around her face. Which way was up?
            There was a splash and Alice knew that someone else had jumped in. The notion that it might be Christoffer terrified her more than she would have ever believed. But she could not breathe and her arms were not working. Everything was black.
            She needed oxygen.
            When her fingers found the surface they were too numb to notice and her body convulsed as it tried to breathe. A brutal wave of lake water flooded her lungs. In attempts to survive, her body relentlessly searched for air, making Alice’s body jerk as it filled with water. It felt like her heart was going to explode and her internal organs collapse in on each other. The pain and panic was like nothing she could have predicted.

The world was a haze of colours. When had she fallen asleep?

            Alice was lying down and could see grass flickering within her field of vision. Svein was leaning over her, his face wet, bouncing back and forth to a rhythm. He looked so worried that Alice would have comforted him, but all she could think about was the lights behind his head – the sky-stream. They were getting brighter and closer to her.
            Feeling indescribably weightless, Alice reached her hand out to touch the tendrils of visible energy. Alice’s skin looked grey compared to all the colours.
            Janne dropped to her knees beside Svein and clapped a hand over her mouth, sobbing. But Alice could not hear her and would have asked why she was upset, except...it seemed unimportant. The lights were whispering over her skin now and without second-guessing herself, Alice willed her body off the ground.
            She felt amazing, the blending colours rippled with serenity and perfection. They took her up towards the stars and as they came closer, Alice stared at their brilliance: appreciative. There were so many...
            Without any resistance, Alice floated amidst the colour currents as if drunk. Everything and everyone she had ever known slipped away from her memories until only a much deeper, uncovered aspect of Alice was left. People drifted past her in the stream and they all greeted her, but their faces were forgotten as soon as she saw them.
            Alice could not tell how long she drifted. It felt like months but perhaps it was only a day. In that time, the swirling auroras began to look tangible.
            After a life-time of nothingness and peace, the visible energy began to sap away with a woosh. Fear clenched her stomach as the lights glared into one colour: white and endless. The wind roared over her body and she knew she was falling; struggling for air, wishing for wings. Before she could discern anything everything vanished.

She was stood – hunched over – in the middle of nowhere, naked. Who was she? Where was she? Why did she no longer feel weightless? With great care, she taught herself how to walk; shuffling forward. Pain ricochetted up her legs, tingling like ants inside her bones.
            Twice she fell and grazed her hands, knees and elbows.
            The ground was grey and cracked and the trees were stark white, emitting a faint glow.
Without warning, someone stepped out of a tree. The girl gasped and trip over her own feet. She backed away. It was a man whose skin glowed yellow like a sedated sun, his figure lean and nimble. He smiled at her and a wave of warmth spread through her body, starting from the tips of her toes. “Hello,” he said. There was a warped echo in his voice. “My name is Ray of Light.”

            The girl swallowed hard. “Hello,” she replied.
            A noise from the left caught the girl’s attention and she yelped as something scuttled across the cracked earth towards them. It was human-shaped but it travelled on all fours and its limbs were moving with vicious precision. It was naked, too, with pearly white skin and long ashen-blue hair. It travelled up one of the strange trees, up into the branches and leapt without effort to the next tree.
            When it scuttled to the floor in front of the girl it froze so abruptly that the girl half expected it never to move again. ‘It’ was in fact a woman, and she had frozen side-on with her head hovering an inch off the floor, eyes fixed on the girl. The woman’s hands and forearms held her torso off the ground, her bum up in the air, one leg bent at the knee and pointing upwards.
            “Hello,” the woman said with the same echo as Ray of Light. “You must be the last Mist. My name is Creeper of Darkness.” As she spoke the girl noticed that Creeper of Darkness had long, pointed nails.
            “What are you?” the girl asked, looking at both Light and Darkness.
            “We are Mists,” Ray of Light said.
            “And so are you,” said Creeper of Darkness.
            “I am?”
            The Mists nodded.
            “You’ve moved on to a different world,” Darkness whispered and Ray of Light bowed to the girl.
            “Welcome,” he said, “you are the last to join us.”
            Darkness sat up, her hands poised like a rabbit. “Now life for the humans can truly begin, poor things.”

SHE COMES IN COLOURS

Arcatera was a grey city. The streets were narrow and the buildings crooked. The pavements were cobbled and the most important buildings were made of green, worn metal. Having grown up there all his life, Isandro did not see anything wrong with the dull, dirty city. In fact, Isandro loved Arcatera.
            "Come on, Isandro!" cried Marian. "We're going to miss the play at this rate!" Isandro gave her a withering look.
            Marian was a small girl of about thirteen years old. She had brown eyes, short brown hair, tanned brown skin and an the average, healthy shape of any young female. Resisting the urge to flick her tomato-nose, Isandro went back to sharpening his axe. Whoever let a child join their Clan was an idiot, he thought.
            "Oh Isandro, pleeease," she whined. "I really want to go."
            "You're a big girl," he grumbled, "go by yourself."
            Marian chewed on her lip, her eyebrows touching in a look of distress. "I don't want to go by myself."
            "Then you should have woken up early this morning and left with the others."
            She grumbled and stropped over to Isandro's bedroom doorway, then stropped back and crossed her arms, snarling at him when he did not budge from his bed.
            "Go away, Marian," he said.
            "You're so mean!" she cried. "Why don't you want go with me? You said you like Mist Plays."
            "I do."
            "Then why won't you go?"
            "Because I like them best in tomorrow's newspaper. Look, I can't be bothered."
            Marian gasped and he peered up at her. She looked as if he had just spat in Father Aksel's face. "What do you mean you can't be bothered? This is the most important Mist Play of the year!"
            "Marian, I won't say it again. Go away." Isandro gripped his hefty axe in both hands and stood up. As he carried it past Marian and hooked it onto the wall beside his bed, the girl made an angry noise before storming off; her boots thudding on the wooden floorboards. Isandro sighed. "I probably should go..." he mumbled to himself. It was his last chance to find work before the Clan moved on.
            Dragging his bundle out from under his bed, Isandro found his log-book and crossed off the name of a local animal he had killed yesterday. He counted out the claws he had taken from it, just to double check. Yes, they were still all there. Isandro packed his few possessions away again. He never saw any point in fully unpacking them to set out around whatever tavern room or lodging they took. They were never settled long enough.
            On the back of his desk chair was Isandro's clan robes. After tightening his green tunic and attaching his bracers, Isandro swept up his black uniform and slipped his arms through its great sleeves. The Clan logo was embellished upon his back in glistening red cotton. Their logo: an ancient relic called 'the sun dagger' with the runes of their Clan name written down its blade.
            Finally, Isandro strapped a quiver of arrows to his back, grabbed his longbow from the corner of the room, and left with his hood up; hoping that Marian had gone on without him.

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