I am a woman of considerable age and I admit the stories my grandfather told me as a child still bring fear to my soul.
The last two mornings I have traveled to work in a dense fog. The fog was so thick in spots I was unable to see more than an arm’s length away. If I hadn’t known where I was going I would have gotten lost in the scariness. My grandfather was a storyteller. The best Pride has ever seen. I loved his stories, even the ones that frightened me. Many a night after listening to my grandfather, tell his tales I crouched beneath my bed quilts in fear.
My favorite stories contained mighty and ferocious dragons. According to my grandfather, dragons were misunderstood wondrous creatures of flight. A dragon by nature was not a killing beast but a guardian of gateways to magical realms. They only ate bad children who continuously misbehaved and caused their parents unbearable stress and grief. Dragons hid in the early morning mist and used the fog to travel between the realms.
This morning after reaching the Clinch River Bridge, the memories of my youth came flooding back. The dense fog reminded me of dragons. The bridge is old and needs replaced. A slow steady pace is required on a clear day. The journey across on a day when you can’t see where you are going is treacherous. Halfway across I stumble over a broken board. I fell and scraped my knee. The pain took me by surprise. I yelled a few words that I won’t repeat here. As I picked myself up, I saw two emerald green eyes racing toward me and hear a screeching that sounded very much like the cry of a dragon. I covered my head and crouched in fear. There was a brief moment when I was certain a dragon was going to eat me.
It was not a dragon but Mr. Fredericks driving a motor cart. He was on his way home. If I hadn’t fallen on my knee and cried out in pain, he wouldn’t have known I was on the bridge. Mr. Fredericks apologized for nearly running me over and promised not to tell my husband I swear like a sailor.
An Ordinary Woman
I am an ordinary woman with a strong sense of pride for my family. I have decided to keep a diary and record the events of my humble existence. My lineage is common. I claim no heroes or persons of interest to entice you to read my story. I have a fine husband and five well-behaved children. I live in the town of Pride in a house that is unremarkable. We are not poor or wealthy but comfortable within our means. Pride is not an extraordinary place; we have a king and a grand castle that sits majestically on a hill. Trolls do not inhabit our mote although rumors would have you believe otherwise. If you travel to the north, south, east or west there are other kings and other towns many claim inhabitants of wizards, fairies, griffins, gnomes and other mystical creatures.
Today, I am tired and feel moody. I want to return home, crawl into bed, and hide from the world. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option. I have to work. My husband and children depend on me to help provide. I am envious of the lucky ones who are financially stable and fortunate enough to stay at home. I shouldn’t complain. I have a roof over my head and food on my table. Many people who could benefit from employment are unemployed. Their lives are dreary in comparison to mine.
I was exhausted by the time I crawled into bed last night at 10pm. My gallant husband worked the night shift. He was assisting the town physician. Sadly, he wasn’t home to sleep beside me. I have always needed his touch to fall into peaceful slumber. Without him, I am a restless sleeper. Last night I dreamt a bizarre dream about floating in the clouds. I was lost and uncertain of my flight path. Blue birds filled the sky and spoke to me. I struggled to understand their message as strange images filled my head. For unknown reasons my eyes popped open a few minutes after midnight. I sat up in bed with an overwhelming feeling of confusion and the need to remember something important. Enticing my brain to be quiet and sleep again was difficult.
I woke at 5:45am. Surprisingly, my youngest daughter was asleep beside me. I don’t know when she climbed into my bed; I usually wake at the slightest crack of the floorboards leading to my room. The child has developed the stealthiest of footsteps and uncanny ability to slither into my bed unnoticed, a skill her older siblings never achieved. My husband offered to fix the creaking floorboards years ago but I declined his offer. The boards have always been an early warning system of sorts and a comfort on the nights that I must sleep alone.
After a quick shower, I stumbled down the stairs for coffee. It is nearly an impossible task to start my day without a dose of caffeine. I left for work shortly thereafter. I moaned the entire way hoping an excuse would drop from the sky and give me reason to return home.
I am covering for Beth this week. She has taken leave to spend time with her husband whom she has not seen or had contact for more than a year. He is a member of the king’s peacekeeping regiment and has been away on a special duty assignment. Except for official letters, mail service is practically nonexistent from that part of the world. The only communication Beth received from her husband was a short message via emissary on her birthday.
This work is quiet, too quiet. I prefer the constant work of my office. The King is busy. His secretary has only approved a handful of visitors today. Verifying authenticity of documents and audience approval only takes a moment and then I sit and wait for the next visitor. I spend a great deal of time pacing around my desk or playing with my pencil.
Time moves slow as I sit in my chair behind these gray walls. I ponder what other people are doing. The only noise I hear is the air conditioning unit and the movement of the second-hand on the grandfather clock. I occasionally hear the clicking of taps on the wood floor from the guard’s shoes as he passes. The silence is driving me insane. I need music or the distraction of conversation.
People occasionally walk by my window on the way to other parts of the castle. I stop and look. I am able to see the tops of heads, their identities a mystery and so I play a guessing game. I wonder where they are going and if their business is important. I haven’t heard at peep out of any of the people in the nearby administration offices all day except for a single sneeze. I replied, “Bless you” but got no answer in reply.
A reality television show sponsored by major industry giants, The Commodity Combat Tournaments(CCT) are promoted as a way to test, study and develop safety equipment and weapons for hunters, soldiers and survivalists.
Dog fights are illegal. Those caught breaking the animal-cruelty laws face stiff fines and punishments of up to five years in prison.
Drafted from Commodity Trade shows by recruiters, a child commodity has no protection. There are no anti-cruelty laws on the books protecting children from deadly combat tournaments camouflaged as family entertainment.
Boys and Girls selected as competitors for CCT are subjected to 3 months of intense combat training. Survival rates a mere 42%. For rating purposes, a select few are fast tracked to the games.
Betting on how long your favorite runner would survive and evade capture was a favorite family pastime.
Sponsored by major industry giants, the “Cup of Commodity” coffee shop offered a variety of beverages and pastries in a family friendly environment. Located on the back wall behind the pastry bar, the Tracker Board ranked the top 20 Runners. Large flat screen televisions strategically placed around the room looped the most recent runner updates. Bets taken at any cash register; identification required.
You could hear a pin drop; everyone’s eyes were on the television screens. It was a good run; the freckle-faced 14-year-old commodity dodged capture for 12 days, an almost unheard of event.
It was all fun and games. The boy thought he was invincible. He taunted the retriever with clues to his hiding places.
For financial gain, an anonymous spotter sent a photo pinpointing the boy’s exact location to the Retriever.
The local television station played the clip several times. Below the underpass, crouched in the dirt the boy begged for his life. “Wait! Please!” He cried wiping his tears. “Can I see my mom? Can I talk to her?”
Annoyed with this one, the retriever smiled and pulled the trigger.
The “Cup of Commodity” coffee shop broke into simultaneous celebration and displeasure. The money exchanging hands would put this runner on the all-time favorite list. The boy’s mom would receive a small cash award from the “Cup of Commodity” for her son’s efforts.
An accident at the textile plant left her disfigured, permitted to keep the teddy bear for comfort she sat on the bench next to the blind boy and waited.
Considered throw-a-ways, the bargain bins contained children physically and mentally imperfect. Bundled together instead of sold separately; these commodities were destined for organ farming, drug testing and jobs considered too hazardous for the adult population.
The bargain bin children receive an endless flow of onlookers. Wooden benches surrounded by a glass enclosure with nowhere to hide, the physically and mentally broken commodities wait for the end of the day and the undisclosed hell to come. The curious gawk and point at their misfortune.
Behind closed doors, potential buyers negotiate amongst each other.
Child welfare advocates on the street proclaim the government treats wounded animals more humanely than a child commodity.