From Earth You Came (fantasy Short Story)
June 24, 2022 at 12:36 pm #151185
Okay, so I was writing a story for the contest and got some critiques and made some changes and I’m hoping to know whether they helped or hurt the story. XD
The story is called From Earth You Came (4255-ish words), but I’m considering changing it to Burnt Sky/Red Sky/The Sky Burns Red or something like that. If you’d like please tell me which one you think fits best!
So if you have time and want to critique it, here it is (also if you’re submitting to the contest and want a critique I’d be happy to try and critique yours in return! :D):
Three passes. Stop. Scoop. Turn the valve. Grab the chain. Jerk. Pull the scrape. Push it back. Repeat.
I paused and took a drink out of my canteen. Ah. Cool wetness flowed down my throat. I could feel it seeping into every earthy clod of my being. I capped the cap back on the canteen and turned back to my work.
Three more passes. Stop. Scoop. Turn the valve. I wiped the sweat from my forehead with my brown forearm. It was toasty down here by the water filters. But it was wet. Good and wet.
The chain clinked as I grabbed it, and the tray brimming with filtered-out gunk squeaked as it emerged from the filtration pipe. I pulled the handle on the scraper, dumping its contents into the trash hole. My mind wandered. My wife Lai at home, playing with our lovely little Beeya. Just three years old, but so big— so bubbly! I ran my fingers through my thick grey hair. This job’s for them.
Three more passes. Stop. Scoop. Turn the valve…
* * *
“Then I said, ‘Well, when you put it that way, I think you’re as worthless as a vur Blue-eyed!’”
I pretended to laugh. Roan wasn’t that funny. “Just be sure not to tell that joke around a woman— or a Blue-eyed, for that matter,” I said. “I don’t think they’d appreciate your language.”
“Well I thought it was funny,” Roan returned, taking a sip of water out of his canteen. “Just don’t talk like a priest, okay?”
I didn’t answer. I turned to my buddy Doph, who was snacking on a bag of lafroot chips. He was always eating, it seemed. Now he was funny, once he got going.
“Doph, you got any jokes for us?”
Doph crunched a chip slowly, squinting at the ceiling. He swallowed. “Got one,” he said.
Me and the other guys in the lunch room waited.
We all turned. Havi, our manager, stomped down the hallway toward us, his eyes narrowed beneath his grey cap.
I bowed as he came in. “What do you want, Manager Havi?”
“I want you to get your vur brown feet out of here and down to the lobby!” he snapped. “Your wife’s waiting down there and she’s hysterical.”
Hysterical. My heart caught in my chest. Lai rarely acted emotional unless… Beeya.
I bolted down the hall.
“Five minutes, Yemar! Just five minutes!” screamed Havi behind me, but his voice faded from my mind as dust in the wind. Getting to Lai was my only thought.
I burst through the hallway into the lobby. I scanned the large, squarish room for my wife. The blue walls were empty of life, as were the cream tile floor and the wooden benches. My heart thumped faster. Where is she?
Lai’s voice seemed to come out of nowhere. She rushed up to me, her dark brown hair in a mess. Her dust-colored face was painted with tears. She gripped my sleeve. “You’re coming home! Now!”
“Why?” I asked, worry in my voice.
“They’ve taken her!” she screamed, her grip tightening on my sleeve. “Come home!” She yanked my sleeve and burst into tears.
I held her close, but my hands were shaking. My mind was flying around like an injured bird. I tried to keep the emotions in. I had no idea what she was talking about, and yet I did. We walked over to a lobby bench and sat down.
“Now what happened?” I asked.
Lai took a deep breath. “They broke in through the window—”
“I don’t know!” she cried. “They broke in the window and took our Beeya!” she looked at me, motherly fierceness in her eyes. “You have to get her back!”
“I will get her back,” I said. Hot anger rose up in me, but I tried to calm myself. “Where did they take her?” I asked Lai.
“I don’t know,” she sobbed. “Maybe they left a note, I don’t know. I—” she stopped and looked at the floor.
Everything was muddy inside. I shook my head. “I’ll get the day off from my boss and go home with you.”
Lai nodded wordlessly.
My heart wobbling, I turned and ran out of the lobby and back down the narrow hallway. Every surface I passed looked grey, and it seemed to take years to get to the lunch room.
“You made decent time,” Havi told me as I entered. I bowed. “Now you will get back to your post?” he said, “Lunch break is over.”
“My—” I stopped. “Something terrible has happened,” I said, my gaze on the floor. “May I take the day off to address it?”
Havi nodded. I thanked him and left. My heart felt like a piece of clay shattered into a million pieces.
* * *
I walked up the concrete path to our house. Even from here I could tell the house had been broken into: bits of glass and footprints were scattered across our plain earth yard, and one of the windows on the eight-sided structure was missing. The door was unlocked. I jogged up to it, turned the knob, threw the door open, and marched inside.
The curtains lay in tatters on the floor, pieces of glass scattered on top of them. The sitting chair was knocked over, as was the table. Beeya’s precious colored blocks were strewn over the living room carpet.
I clenched my fists, fatherly fury soaking my being like water. Whoever had taken my little Beeya would be dead when I found them.
On the far side of the living room stood the tall cabinet where Lai and I kept our most precious belongings safe. As I waded through the wreckage to it, I mentally screamed at myself for not taking the same amount of care to keep my own daughter safe. I pulled a key out of my pocket and unlocked the cabinet door. I tore it open and snatched my dagger from off of the top shelf. I plunged it into my belt and turned around.
Lai stood in the kitchen, rigid and silent. Her deep brown eyes said everything. Get our baby back. Her nostrils flared, but suddenly she winced and covered her face. Oh no, I thought.
“It’s not your fault dear,” I said, trying to step over the mess to get to her. My leg locked with the leg of the sitting chair, and I hit the ground, blocks under my feet and glass poking my side. A curtain clung to my face.
“Oh vur,” I muttered under my breath, pulling the brown cloth away. I stopped.
A piece of paper was sticking out from underneath the fallen table, heavy black writing over it.
“Are you all right, dear?” came the voice of my wife from above. Her footsteps pounded the floor.
I reached out and gripped the edge of the paper. I pulled it to myself and sat up just as Lai reached me.
“What’s that?” her voice dropped to a whisper.
“The note,” I whispered back.
I glanced over the paper. My heart beat faster in my chest, and I could feel wetness on my forehead.
To Yemar, the note read. Meet us today beside the boulder that lies three miles due east of your house. Be alone. We will discuss the terms for returning your daughter. Death to the impures!
That was all it said. But it meant much more.
Lai turned to me, and our eyes met. We knew who this was from. The Earthbound; only they use such a motto.
I stuffed the note in the pocket of my work pants and jumped to my feet. With a shaky nod to my wife, I turned and ran out of the house.
My shoes smacked the concrete road. We were near the edge of the city, so it wasn’t long before I had emerged from the pavement and onto the earthy wilderness outside of the city. Fatherly adrenaline cast fatigue off as I sped west across the bare earth, each step bringing me closer to my daughter. And the Earthbound.
I neared the boulder. Time didn’t seem to have passed since I left the house. I walked up to the great stone— tall, wide, jagged at the top— and put my hand to the hilt of my dagger. I waited, the air thick with an eerie stillness. Grey clouds brooded overhead.
I tried to calm my emotions. “I have come for Beeya!” I shouted, my voice as even as I could manage. “Now please, may we negotiate conditions.”
“Come,” said a voice. It sounded like it came from the far side of the boulder.
My grip tightened on my dagger hilt, and with a deep breath I proceeded. I rounded the stony corner, but no being showed.
Then, heralded only by a grunt, an Oli dropped down to the earth a few yards ahead of me, dressed in dull olive. Embroidery covered his coat, and his black beard was curled: telltale signs of an Earthbound. He frowned at me.
“You have come,” he said.
“Yes I have,” I answered. “Now may we negotiate the terms for my daughter’s release?”
His eyes narrowed. “Your daughter has blue eyes,” he said.
I breathed in deep. “Yes, I know,” I replied, emotion rising in my throat, “but I can assure you that she is no Blue-eyed! My wife and I are pure Oli, I promise. You may check our papers and see that it’s true.”
Anger flickered in the Earthbound’s face. “That may be true,” he said, “but the Earth may say otherwise.” He paused and looked me full in the face. “In accordance with the decrees of the Earth herself, all impures— all Blue-eyeds, all Pheli— must die.”
I whipped my dagger out. “You cannot kill her,” I hissed, taking a step toward the Earthbound. Sweat drenched my forehead and anger pulsed through my veins.
“If you move a step further, my men will shoot you,” said the Earthbound. “And your daughter, too,” he added.
I stopped, helplessness grabbing at my chest. “Then what do you want?” I choked the words out.
“Gather every impure in your city and bring them to this boulder,” he said, his tone quick and brutal. “There we will kill them, and you shall have your daughter back.”
My insides felt hollow. Bring The Creator’s beings to the slaughter? My conscience was violent in protest, but they weren’t Oli, and— No. I took a breath and tried to resume my business tone. “You are a strong man,” I said. “Why don’t you gather them yourself? Blue-eyeds and Pheli have no rights in the city— it is legal to murder them if the government agrees, which they almost always do.”
“My friends were banished from the city,” the Earthbound returned, his gaze hard. “The government will imprison us, or kill us, if we return. You must gather them. If you do not your daughter will die.”
A tremor wriggled its way through me once again. I couldn’t— I couldn’t— I— I had to. I would not let Beeya die.
“I will do it,” I said, my voice shaking free of my conscience.
The Earthbound bowed to me and leapt from the ground onto a ledge of the boulder. He clambered to his feet, climbed up behind a bit of stone, and disappeared from sight.
I turned and walked wordlessly home, the sky glowing red above me. I couldn’t tell Lai about this— she wouldn’t approve. And yet— I sighed. My heart felt like a bag of water that had just been dropped onto the ground. I could save my little Beeya, but— nothing felt right at that moment.
* * *
I let out a low sigh. My chest squeezed my insides, and I felt sick. It had been three days and I hadn’t gotten anywhere with gathering the “impures.” I knew Blue-eyeds and Pheli were worth less than us, but they were still The Creator’s beings. That fact alone hammered my stomach and seemed to turn it inside out. I turned to Doph, who was also leaning against the wall of the lunch room. The other guys were talking at the other end of the room.
Doph ate a lafroot chip, banishing the crumbs into the depths of his beard. He eyed me. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
My eyes dropped to the floor. “I’m in a horrible spot,” I said. Doph was my best friend, but I couldn’t help my voice dropping to a whisper. “My daughter’s been— taken, and I— I don’t know.”
Doph closed his eyes a moment, chewing. “What don’t you know?”
“I don’t know what to choose!” I blew out a breath, trying to cool the confusion inside. “I mean I chose, but inside—” I stopped. “I don’t know. For the situation I’m in, I guess I don’t really have a choice.”
Doph stared at me from under his thick brown eyebrows. “Everybody’s got a choice, Yemar. Always. So the only question left to ask is how are you gonna make the right ones?”
“What?” My chest tensed.
“You heard me.”
“I just need to help my daughter,” I said at last. “That’s what The Creator wants me to do.” My stomach churned.
“I’m sure,” said Doph. “But how?”
My fists shook. “They already told me how!” I said. “I just need to— to find some way to do it.”
“I’m going back to my post,” I said. I strode off, nothing feeling right once again.
* * *
“May I see the current address book?” I asked the lady behind the counter.
“Yes,” she answered in succinct government style. She pulled a massive book off of the shelf behind her and set it wordlessly on the counter in front of me.
I bowed and grabbed the book. I carried it over to a bench and fished a pen and paper out of my pocket. My hands were shaking as I opened the address book.
Abai: House 3871; Oli, read the first entry. I started to scan the rest of the A’s; my chest tight. I had almost gotten to the B’s when my hand began to cramp and I hadn’t found the address of a single Blue-eyed or Pheli. I had to put the book down. I started to, but— Beeya. I narrowed my eyes and resumed scanning.
* * *
The sky blazed red above me as I trudged along the walkway. I was exhausted. I had spent hours poring over the address book and had only picked up three names. I unlocked and opened the door to our house and stepped in. Lai stood behind the table, a piece of paper in her hands. My stomach sank. Wordlessly she handed the paper to me.
You are taking too long, it read. You have four days to hand them over, or your daughter will die. Death to the impures!
My hands shook. Four days? It could take four days to scan the whole address book alone! And then how would I get the “impures” to come? I— I covered my face with my hands.
“What do I do?” I murmured into my palms.
Lai touched my shoulder with her hand. “We—” she sighted. “We have to trust Him,” she said. She tried to smile, but her face twisted in pain. “We don’t have any other place to go.”
I nodded out of habit. Lai had told me this so many times before, but I didn’t think it would get us anywhere. Not now, at least. My daughter had been kidnapped, and I had only four days to rescue her. It didn’t seem like The Creator was very interested in helping us out— He let this happen, after all— so if saving Beeya meant not trusting Him, I was willing to do that. But— still my chest pulled tight with guilt.
My stomach pinched. Water and bed. In the morning I could sort things out.
* * *
I set my pen down and looked over my work. Exclusive Event! the flyer read. Come all Blue-eyeds and Pheli! Enjoy music, food, and speeches. Invite your friends! If you wish to join this event, please send a message to a nearby government office. Address it to Yemar, House 74386. Arrive at said house tomorrow morning for directions to the event. Thank you!
I nodded. It was all right. Now I simply had to copy it over twenty times, send the flyers to the addresses of the Blue-eyeds and Pheli I had discovered in the address book over the past few days, gather the beings tomorrow morning, and guide them to the “exclusive event.” I felt sick thinking about it— thinking about what I was doing. I shook my head. I had to do this for Beeya; the deadline was tomorrow evening.
I set my pen to the next page.
* * *
I glanced over at the sundial squatting on the patch of dirt in front of the house. My heartbeat quickened. It was already past midday, and no one had arrived yet. If they did not come— I shut my eyes. I would get my daughter back— at any cost.
A clear voice rang through our compact neighborhood. I peered to my left. Down the thin walkway beside the road strolled a Pheli, his hair long and full of moss, and his skin a pale tan. He dressed in green. Behind him walked a few other Pheli.
“Hello to you as well!” I answered back, forcing friendliness into my tone. I silently counted the Pheli. Five. Three more Pheli and twelve more Blue-eyeds left, I thought.
I had the Pheli and his friends stand near the sundial while we waited for the others.
A minute passed. I was glad Lai was away at the Temple; she wouldn’t approve of what I was doing. I shook my head. I had to do this— for Beeya. I chewed on my nails the minutes flowing past like water.
“Please come; please come,” I whispered into the air.
As if in answer, more Pheli and a few Blue-eyeds came into view on the different walkways. I breathed out in relief, but my chest remained tight— stretched— throbbing. I tried to ignore the feeling. I began counting. They were all here.
“Now, please follow me!” I said. “Let the excitement begin!”
Everyone nodded or cheered, and as I started west, they followed. Once we had gotten in sight of the boulder, one of the families walked up near me. Their eyes were all blue.
“Will this event have games for the children?” asked the mother in a polite voice.
“Of course,” I lied.
“Oh! Thank you,” she replied. She turned to her daughter. “Games, Kya!” she said. “Just like you hoped!”
“Yes!” The little Blue-eyed smiled. Her hair was light like Beeya’s, and she looked about her age.
My stomach twisted. In about an hour that sweet little Blue-eyed would meet her end. And what had she done? I bit my lip. Innocent— just like Beeya, I thought. How— how can I choose? I can’t! Doph’s words echoed in my ears. Everybody’s got a choice. Always. So the only question left to ask is how are you gonna make the right ones? I stopped. Everyone else halted behind me. My chest heaved, and my mind was racing. I can’t— I have to— Beeya… My core was rattling. I turned around, my hands shaking.
“I— I—” The Blue-eyeds and Pheli looked at me strangely.
“What is wrong?” one Pheli said.
I closed my eyes. Help me, Creator. “There is no event,” I gasped, “The Earthbound ordered me to— you must go home. Now!”
I didn’t open my eyes to see the reaction of the crowd; but I could hear it.
“Traitor!” someone whispered.
“Typical Oli,” another said.
“Sir! Do you need— help? With anything?”
My eyes cracked open. The father of the little Blue-eyed girl looked at me, his face colored with sincere concern.
“No,” I murmured, “I don’t need any help. Go home.”
The Blue-eyed nodded, and the whole band of twenty individuals started back east across the dirt.
Beeya. I felt sick inside. The sky was leaning toward the evening, small patches of yellow painting the tips of the clouds. I looked at the boulder. I have to try.
I took off, my heart pounding and my thin shoes slapping the earth. I stopped a few yards in front of the boulder, horrible, heart-wrenching dread ripping at my chest. I drew my dagger. I never went anywhere without it anymore.
Slowly, I made my way around the great stone, my stomach in knots and my heart in my ears. Again, as I rounded the corner, no Earthbound could be seen.
“I’ve come!” I shouted, my voice shaking.
The Earthbound whom I had met before suddenly landed on the dust before me. “You have brought them?” he asked, his gaze hard.
“I will bring you to them,” I gulped down the lie, “once you give me my daughter back.”
“No,” he answered. “You will bring them to us, and once we have killed them we will give you your daughter back.”
“I brought them as far as I was able,” I tried. “You will have to go out to them.”
“No,” the Earthbound repeated. Anger showed in his features. “You are lying,” he said. “Your daughter will die. Now.”
“No!” I screamed, and thrust at him with my dagger. He dodged, and I fell on the earth. The Earthbound kept me down with his foot.
“Shoot her,” he said to his men.
I looked up. My little Beeya sat on a ledge beside three of the Earthbound. The bow bent, her eyes grew wide, and— “Daddy, help me!” Her body went limp.
I pressed my face into the dirt, retching out my emotions in sobs that racked my body.
“Lie in the dust, betrayer,” hissed the Earthbound above me. “If you were not Oli you would be dead right now.”
His soft footprints faded as he walked away.
I clenched my fists and drove them into the earth. I did what You wanted! I screamed silently at The Creator. I didn’t end up bringing the Pheli and Blue-eyeds to be killed, but You allowed the Earthbound to kill my daughter! You—
I struggled to my feet, breathing hard. I picked up my dagger, set my brow, and sped east toward the city; east toward the Temple of the Truth.
Ever since we were married Lai had been telling me to trust The Creator more. Ever since we became friends Doph had been telling me the same. And now when I tried to make a decision based on what He’d want, I lost my daughter. My daughter! The three-year-old Oli with a heart as pure as water and a head so full of happiness was dead. And it was my fault. His fault.
I rocketed down the narrow streets of the city, one building in mind. I dodged neighborhoods and factories, the air lifting my hair as I ran, until I came to the city square. Government offices, restaurants, and a temple enclosed it.
I narrowed my eyes and approached the temple— Temple of the Truth. Its doors were open as always, and its round gilded roof sparkled in the red light of the setting sun. No one was there— the service must have ended a while ago. I marched through the arched doorway and down the center aisle to the altar where prayers were offered up. I knelt before it, my heart beating so fast I could feel it. I looked at the picture on the front of the altar. It was a painting of The Creator helping an Oli out of a pit. This— this lie of His trustworthiness— was what I wanted to deface.
I raised my dagger. It shone red in the light of the dusk, and dirt sprinkled its surface. I slashed at the painting, cutting a line from The Creator’s chest and into the Oli’s. I stopped, my chest heaving with anger and so many other emotions I could never describe them all.
Then I saw it.
An inscription had been scrawled in red across the top of the painting. It ran: From earth you came, and to earth you are going. I hold your life in My hands and I love you. Watch as the sky burns red with My love.
A lump formed in my throat. He loves me? But Beeya—
I closed my eyes. My heart itself was shaking. Beeya’s death was not His plan. He had had some other way. I could’ve seen the ways out: Doph’s words— the Blue-eyed father’s face— all The Creator’s help. I could’ve—
I shook my head. I knew what went wrong, and I knew why. I should’ve asked for help. I should’ve—
I looked up. The line through the painting was glowing red in the light of the dusk.
I rose shakily and turned around. I took a step toward the door. He took me from earth. Another step. He knows what I need. Another. He— knows— what decisions I should make. I reached the doorway. He can— He wants to— I choked. He loves me. I shivered, but I felt— better.
The sky burned red above me, and I made my way home, my heart heavy— but lighter.
God bless y’all!
Everyone has a choice; but how will we make the right ones?
(hint: God ;))June 25, 2022 at 1:46 pm #151202
yeah, sorry this thing is so darn long it’s not reasonable to ask anyone to read it 😂
Everyone has a choice; but how will we make the right ones?
(hint: God ;))June 25, 2022 at 9:40 pm #151208K. A. Grey@k-a-grey
@kingdomfire7 Hey now, don’t put yourself or your story down! I did read it, but since I don’t really consider myself a fantasy writer, I wasn’t able to comment unless I joined the group. That being said, I’m willing to offer some critique if you’d care to hear it!
First off, I really enjoyed this story! I like the title “From Earth You Came” most, but “The Sky Burns Red” sounds good too.
I think you have good prose and good pacing. I don’t have much to critique except the ending. It just feels a little too sudden to me? I mean, he just lost his daughter, so he probably isn’t going to have his feelings resolved that quickly. I do understand that there is a little bit of a time constraint with a short story, so obviously you can’t really have a long-drawn out scene. I actually think you do really well with the story until where it says, “Then I saw it. An inscription had been scrawled…” I think that slashing the painting feels like a realistic reaction. But stopping short just because he sees the inscription feels just a little bit forced? He might even react with even more cynicism. (“How could He say He loves?”)
My advice might be to either have another character support him in that moment, because the MC isn’t going to be thinking clearly. Or perhaps alter the reaction he has at first. The realization of “Oh, this happened because I acted like this…” just feels like it happens a little too soon.
Of course, remember that this is all my subjective opinion, and some people might say the story should go somewhere else and some might want to keep it the way it is. I’d say the story works pretty well as it is, but strengthening those last few paragraphs might make it even more powerful. My advice would be, to really look how this character is going to react to certain situations, his emotions and thought processes are going to affect his actions. Other than that, I enjoyed this story very much! I like the message you are trying to convey, and it is well-written. Well done!June 26, 2022 at 7:25 am #151209
Thank you so much for the critique!
Ah, yes- good point. I’ve been guilty of abrupt resolutions before. XD In fact, in just about all my recent short stories. xP
So that was really good advice, thanks! God bless you! ;D
Everyone has a choice; but how will we make the right ones?
(hint: God ;))
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