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.
She wore a dark blue skirt, blazer and three-inch heels. The blond hair resting on her shoulders perfectly styled to reflect a woman of wealth and authority. Awards cover the walls of her prestigious corner office in Preston Towers. In her hands, a crystal sculpture recognizing her magazine “The Preston Commodity Trader” as the number 1 publication read in the nation.
Her father started the magazine 30 years ago after the establishment of the Commodity Child Labor laws. He died last year on a mountain highway driving his Ferrari at a high rate of speed, his brakes failed. The police cleared the garage mechanic of tampering with the breaks after a lengthy investigation.
The Preston Commodity Trader Slogans
Make buying, selling and trading commodities easier; purchase a subscription to the “Preston Commodity Trader”.
Keep up with your favorite Runner and the Retriever hot on their heels; Read the “Preston Commodity Trader”.
Don’t get cheated out of your money, before buying or trading, check the child’s reliability rating in the “Preston Commodity Trader “.
Runners are dangerous and a threat to society; Advertise your runner in the “Preston Commodity Trader”.
Show your appreciation to the Retrievers in your city. Donate to the Retriever fund by purchasing a subscription to the “Preston Commodity Trader”.
The billboards were all over the city picturing healthy, happy smiling children working for a living.
The VEP Administrator
The sign on the door designated his title as Vocational Education Program Administrator. His dark blue jacket hung on the coat rack next to the door. The white shirtsleeves rolled half way up his forearms. He sat behind his desk with his face in his hands attempting to calm the migraine. The stack of VEP applications on his desk were at an unmanageable level. His staff of four overwhelmed. There weren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to complete all of the required inspections and paperwork. His most experienced and reliable inspector abandoned her position for maternity leave. She would not return for at least 4 months and there was no replacement. The remaining inspectors slow, sloppy and teetered on the line of incompetence. Government funding for the program depended on the number of VEP applicants certified in a given year. His boss breathed down his neck to increase productivity 8 percent over last year. He looked at the stack of applications, he could fabricate the reports and save time, no one would know.
Her entire wardrobe consisted of half a dozen blue waitress uniforms. As a child, she had been a commodity; life was hell. Her teenage years spent on the run fighting to survive in a world that treats children as less than human. Her employment at the diner began at the age of 18. The previous owner and father of the young man behind the counter had been good to her. She cried the day he died.
A member of a secret society of child advocates, she aids runners in evading capture by the retrievers.
The diner was a temporary stopping place, a safe haven from the torrential downpour outside. The booth made of old wood was cold and drafty but offered a clear view of the road. Exhausted from their journey, her head of brown curls resting on his tired shoulders she whispers, “I love you”.
The waitress brings the weary travelers two glasses of water and a day old cinnamon bun. The young man scratches his stubbly chin and nods in appreciation. He could offer no more. His pockets were empty.
The waitress sighs, “There would be no tip from this table”.
My name is Ghent. I remember nothing prior to the time of my awakening; during my first conscious moments, my mind attempted to search for answers. I was not afraid but lost in blankness; there were no images to retrieve, no clue to my predicament. Limited to a space no larger than a casket, movement was minimal; I used my hands to search for a button or a lever that would allow escape from my captivity. While blindly searching the walls, a light above my head began to flash and change in color from red, to yellow, to green. The hatch released allowing external air to rush in; the sudden change in air pressure caused my lungs to take a series of unexpected deep breaths. The inhalation of fresh air was invigorating. I reached out and pushed the hatch aside. My first images of freedom were a metal grey ceiling lined with pipes and recessed lighting. Curious about my surroundings coupled with the desire to flee my confinement I sat up. To my surprise, I was not alone.
A room of strangers, both male and female from various places of origin, we looked at each other uncertain what to say. When words were finally spoken the language unfamiliar but recognizable to all. My first attempts to speak in retrospect were comical. I started and stopped sentences several times in an attempt to fix the malfunction in my brain. The words in my head English but what springs forth from my mouth is not.
I look around nothing is familiar. A placard on the wall suggests we are in a place called Dannick. None of us remembers entering the pods; our minds blank in regards to past events. Attempts to brain storm for answers ineffective; our imaginations run wild with possibilities. We can only speculate as to how, when or why our destinies collided in this place.
Our matching jumpsuits suggest we are members of a group possibly inmates or an elite band of warriors. I prefer to think we are the later or something comparable in respectability. I do not wish to be a criminal.
Collectively we decided to explore our surroundings. I suggest we are on a military vessel or in the deep dark depths of a research facility or possibly a fallout shelter; although a logical reason for being in either of those places is not apparent. I step toward the only door leading out of the room; it slides open. Two armed guards prevent my exit.
Captain Addison enters the room; with all the joy of a proud father and exclaims “Welcome to the Dannick!” He called us recruits and congratulated us on finding our way here. My mind is confused. I try to remember what I have forgotten, to make sense of my circumstance. Captain Addison makes it sound as if we are here by choice. He seems nice enough but I feel as if all is not what it seems. I am a recruit for this vessel but something deep within says I do not belong here.