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Ether

Short Story

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#1 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa
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Posted Feb 10 2013 - 04:42 PM

To all the men and women of America who served, serves, or will serve their nation. Heroism defies spatio-temporality.

 

 

The somber fingers of night crept into my tent. Outside it was so positively dark that there was no light to enter through the flap, leaving whatever did so devoid of any illumination that it was merely a brighter hue of shadow. But even with so little to see by, I could not sleep. My mind pulsed with memories of what I had left behind and what I might never see again. I saw a frenzy of bloody scenes, images of violence and terror and destruction that made my heart race. When I opened my eyes to distract them there only a void around me.

 

I tried not to think …

 

I didn't want to think …

 

I wanted to be far away …

 

With a sigh I heaved myself to my feet and emerged into the night air. It was warm, but there was a sobering breeze for balance. As temperate as a summer's day … My thoughts were interrupted by a cry from somewhere within the camp, a prisoner's wail. It started out low like a gurgle, rolling into a level shriek, then shattering into a fitful waver from pitch to pitch until it finally died away.

 

For as long as it had lasted my mind had become consumed by it. It had dragged me into its abyss of misery as if it were all that existed. Now in the regathering hush I found myself back in Afghanistan. Not that that was much better. I was shivering convulsively. Forcibly I calmed my ruffled mind and turned it to other things: reminiscences, desires, dreams, anything but the reality of the present.

 

I sat or I fell, it could be put either way. One way or another I came to a cross-legged position in the dirt, and after brushing a sharp stone from underneath my ankle I lifted my eyes to the sky. The stars glowed brighter than I had ever seen them; they were the only light within miles. I searched them for constellations, but I wasn't familiar with the night sky here. It was like someone you had never met but who reminded you of an old friend. Yet they were not; these were not my friends. They were strangers, cold and foreign.

 

During my life I had become intimate with my stars. They had been nocturnal companions, there with me when I was alone in the darkness to console and advise me. Before my marriage they had belonged to me in the darkness; now they belonged to the both of us. But she was not here, and even when I looked for my stars I could not find them.

 

I tried to peer behind them, piercing the heavenly veil to see what lay beyond …

 

"Here more than anywhere," I murmured, "you should be able to hear me. Can you?"

 

The breeze stirred, becoming stronger. On its currents soared a sound, which at first I could not identify; then it became a voice, like the ringing of distant bells or the singing of birds.

 

A smile crept upon my lips. I said, "You're right. He always can. But can you?"

 

Fingers of air brushed along my arm.

 

I took them in my hand, gingerly wrapping my own fingers around the ether. "I know you can."

 

I said, "I'm sure I don't have to say this. But I miss you."

 

 

"What do you mean? You're my wife, why shouldn't I miss you?"

 

 

"But we're not together. I'm here, and you're back home--"

 

 

"What's that supposed to mean?"

 

 

"But I am here, right now. How can I--" I sighed as she interrupted again. "All right, all right. Time and place has nothing to do with this--with us."

 

 

"Beyond the four dimensions, I like that. This isn't spatio-temporal. We're above that."

 

 

"Look, just because you're wiser and smarter than I am, you don't have to act like a guru. I know you are."

 

 

"Don't say that. You are and you know it. We both know it."

 

 

I laughed. "Don't bother to deny it. I don't believe a word of your modesty. I know you too well. I love you too much."

 

The air stilled. I sighed, planting an elbow on my knee and resting my chin in my palm. "I must be crazy, sitting alone in the night and talking to someone on the other end of the world."

 

The wind picked up into a violent gust that nearly blinded me with sand.

 

"Okay, I'm sorry! It's just hard to feel like I'm not alone. You must know that. You must be feeling the same."

 

 

"Am I forgiven?"

 

 …

 

"I love you." Without a pause I added, "The stars are beautiful tonight."

 

 

"No they're not always. Only when I'm with you."

 

 

"You're right. They always are, then." I swept a hand across the sky as if to gather all the heavenly lamps into my grasp. I held out my hand to her again, and her fingers brushed up all the moondust.

 

We didn't say much more. In a state that defies time and space, topics of conversation that pertain to either become null. Besides, such a state is too precious to waste talking too much. Each moment seemed an eternity of quiet ecstasy. I just wanted to savor every one before morning.

 

When a yawn sundered my lips, sending tremors throughout my body, I knew it was time to turn in.

 

"You're still there, aren't you?"

 

 

"Sorry, it was a stupid question. I'm practically asleep, I can't think straight. I should be going back to bed, I guess. Big day tomorrow."

 

 

"I just want to tell you one more thing before I go."

 

 

"I think you were right. Or are. Probably doesn't matter which. If our love defies spatio-temporality like you said, it defies tense, too. Were, are, will be, doesn't matter. No, I know you're right. Our love isn't here or there or now and then, but ubiquitous and always. … Oh, I know I sound ridiculous, but you make a poet out of me."

 

 

"I didn't say a very good poet. You say these things better. I'm trying to think of the right word to put it all in, but I can't think of one. Our love--it's--it's--"

 

 

"Ethereal. Yes, that's the word."

 

 

"I love you. And you don't have to say anything more … because I know you love me, too. I'll come back to you, alive, don't worry about that. But not until I've done something to make the world a better place for you to live in."

 

 

"All right. For us to live in."

 

Her tone was as smooth as the aery stars, washing over my heart and lifting it up into the Heavens. Warmer than the breeze but as soft, her breath tickled my ear as she whispered,

"Be safe, love. I just want you home. I don't need a hero."

 

"With your strength behind me, you'll have both."

 

I brought my hand to my face. My lips met my palm in a yearning kiss, and I let the wind carry it away. It was the best I could do for now. But I would do better.

 

"Good night, darling."

 

I'm not sure which of us said it or whether we both did. Saying nothing more I rose and returned to my tent. Sleep took me into its embrace, as welcoming and warm as my wife's waiting arms.

 

 

 

[color=rgb(0,128,0);]Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith :smilemirunu:[/color] 


Edited by Nuile Writerson, Feb 10 2013 - 04:57 PM.

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#2 Offline Cederak

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Posted Feb 20 2013 - 07:05 PM

[color=#000080;][font="verdana, geneva, sans-serif;"]I appreciate the inadvertent dedication to me in your introduction; it's a nice gesture on your part. Anyway, let's get this Review Pass moving, yeah?[/color][/font]

 

[color=#000080;][font="verdana, geneva, sans-serif;"]I've heard of one-sided conversations before, but you really took it to another level entirely in this piece. You painted a very vivid, beautiful picture of the night, employing your usual degree of descriptiveness. It paid off here in a relatively brief story, because I still like a strong sense of setting even when the subjects turn as heavy as time and space.[/color][/font]

 

[color=#000080;][font="verdana, geneva, sans-serif;"]I don't have any negative criticism to offer on this one, which is why this review is going to be rather brief. I read it, I read it again, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Your "love conquers all" message came across loud and clear, really capturing the depth of the lead's affection for his wife, half the world away. Your title struck me as a fine word choice (I prefer aether, but it's an arbitrary decision) and I like how reflective the tone of the conversation became. A man alone with the stars and the thoughts of his wife, which are more than mere thoughts, and I think the ambiguity there adds to the appeal of why I enjoyed this story. I couldn't be sure whether the connection of love went beyond metaphor or not, but with all that talk of the ether, I like to think there was more to it and the reader was listening to one end of a sort of phone call.[/color][/font]

 

[color=#000080;][font="verdana, geneva, sans-serif;"]Anyway, nicely written story, Nuile.[/color][/font]

 

[color=#000080;][font="verdana, geneva, sans-serif;"]-Ced[/color][/font]


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#3 Offline Velox

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Posted Jun 13 2013 - 02:59 PM

SSCC Charity Review
 
While I'm not actually in the military like Ced is, I too really appreciate the dedication--as I'm sure you know by now from knowing me, I have a lot of respect for the members of the armed forces. And I think this story really does them justice. It's beautiful and sweet, filled with emotion and...love. Not like you didn't say it enough times. =P But seriously, this was great, and like Caleb I'm having a hard time finding anything to critique. 
 
The one-sided conversation is interesting. At a few times it's a little jarring, but...it kind of has to be. You don't really repeat what the other person says all the time, so if you did that it just wouldn't be realistic. Yet there wasn't a time when I was confused at all, either. You could tell what was being said, even if not exactly. I don't want to repeat Caleb too much, but one of the first things I thought after reading the story really was that...one of the reasons it's so great is that we're not completely sure whether the connection was actually real or not, and I think that works really well for the story. We don't need to know, and this way, whichever one prefers is the one they can say is "right." 
 
The one thing I want to point out is the one line where we do "hear" the wife's response, toward the end. I'm not sure about it...it's really a beautiful few lines there, yes, but it is the only time that we see what the wife actually says, and I have to wonder if it'd be best if we didn't. Because since we do, it causes a lot of questions like why only now, why this specifically, etc. But it's nice that, at the end, we finally do hear her. So...yeah, I'm conflicted. =P I'll just leave it at pointing it out and letting you decide, haha. 
 
Really though, my favorite part has to be the beginning. The descriptions were all simply fantastic, and I loved the thoughts and emotions contained within those few paragraphs. Really well-done. 
 
I did actually manage to find two nitpicks, though!
 

Outside it was so positively dark that there was no light to enter through the flap, leaving whatever did so devoid of any illumination that it was merely a brighter hue of shadow.

 

I get what you're saying here, but this sentence is a little...confusing? Long? Unclear? Not sure of the exact word for it, but while I understood the meaning of this sentence, I think it could be reworded a bit. 

 

Fingers of air brushed along my arm.

 

As much as I love this metaphor...you use it in the first sentence. It can be fine to repeat descriptions sometimes, but when you have a metaphor as unique as this, it really stands out when you use it more than once. It was fantastic and great in the first sentence, but using it again takes away a little bit of that. 
 
---
 
Nothing else to say, really. Great job here, Nuile. A beautiful story about a beautiful subject. 

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