Day 235 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about someone embracing something they used to hide.
Erin: “I want to show you something,” my boyfriend sat down next to me on the couch.
“Your dream journal,” I asked looking at the leather-bound journal with a moon burned into it.
“That’s not what it is,” he corrected handing it to me without any other explanation.
I read the first few words and they were beautiful. After a few verses, I caught on that it was poetry. “Why is this the first I am hearing about this?”
“I don’t tell people” he grumbled.
“Why,” I pressed.
“Cause it’s embarrassing,” there was a whine in his voice.
“Like that’s stopped you from sharing anything with me before,” I thought that I was different.
“Well you would want me to write some for you,” he reviled.
I shot him an annoyed look, “who’s this one about then,” I pointed to the love poem I was on.
“You, but I didn’t need the pressure,” he argued.
“How are you so articulate on the page, yet we are having this ridiculous conversation,” I shook my head fully aware of this guy I was dating.
Shannon: I used to hide my grades the second I got my papers back. I didn’t want my friend to know I cared about school. I also didn’t want my classmates to see my grades and instantly assume they knew something about the kind of person I was. Eventually I realized by covering my grades I was covering up one more piece of me, and I was sick of hiding. That’s why I decided to let them look, not because I wanted them to know, but because I wanted to stop punishing myself for the truth.
What is being brought to light?
I followed one of the guards on a winding path down the side of the parapets, into the first available building, which turned out to be the pristine stables, and through a backdoor that clanged heavily against its bolts as the door itself shut behind me. Suddenly finding myself alone in a pitch dark, dank room, I fell back against the door and heaved feebly against the bolts. Breathing in a gulp of musty air, I blinked furiously to hold back the stinging tears of horror; I hadn’t really wanted to be a part of the royal staff, but this had appeared preferable to the idiocy that was likely to happen at my house. Even so, this kind of foolishness didn’t seem very helpful in determining the best candidate for this most-prestigious position. Chances were overwhelmingly good that the princess would never be trapped in the castle dungeon with only her Wizard Aide by her side.
“Fine,” I whispered into the depths where my eyes were already playing tricks on me; murky shadows stalked across my path and spider webs dripped like gauze from the ceiling. Shutting my eyes, against my instincts, I summoned the calm required for the specific spell work I was about to weave and chanted a charm I knew by heart. Instantly, I could see through my eyelids as though the daylight sun was shining right at me, and I blinked rapidly. Before me, in strange monotone hues, was a vast cavernous room with no sign of an exit, other than the one I’d come in through. Something told me the challenge wasn’t to break out the same was I’d come in, so I started forward carefully, still adjusting to the night vision.
The stone around me was dense and cold to the touch as I touched each brick in turn, searching for one or two that felt different; magick had its own residual tingling sensation even after hours of disuse. Obviously this was one of the trials, but since there had been a dozen contestants before me, there must be a clue as to what methods of escape they’d used. If it was cheating, I would have gladly given up whatever I won for getting through.
Finally, after several tense minutes with no signs, I felt a strange surge from a cluster of bricks near the back of the room. Resting my hands against the stone, I drew on the energy, channeling my inner seer, and had an answer quicker than even I’d hoped. The last contestant had simply blasted through the wall, and escaped in a matter of minutes, where I’d already wasted all this time determining the best course of action. Whispering to myself furiously, I used a simple gust of air to levitate each brick off into a neat pile at the side, thinking myself pretty clever.
As soon as the last piece was out of the way, I ducked through and continued down a short tunnel that ended in a fork. Far behind me I could hear the bricks moving back into place as a small shaft of light was cast across the damp dirt floor. When the last piece slid back, blocking the light completely, I glanced down both options without much hope of determining which was correct. Once again, I shut my eyes tightly to think.
I considered each path in the darkest depths of my own mind, following the left as though I was a ghost hovering along, not disturbing anything in my path. Several feet down the way, the tunnel curved gently, ending in a mass of roots and rocks that likely hadn’t been moved in years, if not decades. Sighing as I made my way back to my physical form, I zoomed past myself and down the other end, just in case there was a trap of some sort. This one ended abruptly in a wall of dirt, though there was a small pipe protruding from the wall which might have been a clue. Might have being the important part of the discovery; I chose to ignore the tiny hole and decided to try a different tactic.
When I was back consciously back in my body I had an epiphany; this couldn’t be the exact same kind of task as the first part or it wouldn’t be a big deal. So I stood there for a few short minutes breathing in the rancid air as I tried to think of a solution to the supposed dead-end.
From where I’d just come, down the hall, there was a large, earth-moving explosion that shook loose a layer of dirt from the ceiling and nearly knocked me over. At this distance all I could see was a figure slouching through the wall and heading in my direction; their hands were shifting in the air in front of them, twisting and writhing in a rhythmic way. A flash of light burst from their fingers, hovering about shoulder-height between us and blinding me with my sensitive sight. Shutting my eyes against the glare, I let the night vision spell fade away so I could see what I was up against.
Stepping delicately in the slimy dirt was a short, pants-wearing girl with her hair trimmed so short she appeared to be a boy at first glance, with a dirty, angular face. She was covered in a thin layer of dust, which was to be expected when you blew a human-sized hole in a wall of stone.
“Who are you?” she asked, stopping a few steps away to eye me in the glow of her floating fire; I envied that spell as I had never been good at the fire magick. By the harsh light I could see a tremor to her right arm and the glint of a blade at her hip. Something about the warrior girl made me moderately nervous, though not enough to force the truth out of me.
Grinning widely, I lied with the silver tongue I’d been given, “Oh, I’m just trying to see whether anyone else will figure this clue out the same way I did. See, the last guy didn’t have a prayer, but the one before him seemed to know his stuff.” Vaguely, I gestured around the tunnel and sighed, “Of course, I’ve got an advantage anyway, since I was taught by some very particular witches.” I was careful to keep the smile wide enough to touch the skin around my eyes, even though I was slightly claustrophobic. “Anyhow, off you go.”
The girl eyed me warily as she passed with her fire in tow; if I didn’t know better, I could have sworn the flame growled as it hovered by.
After watching the girl for at least half an hour, I made my peace with the fact that she had no ideas whatsoever how to escape the tunnel. It had been quite pitiful watching her wandering back and forth searching every inch of the space for any sign of what to do, but I could take it no longer. Stepping forward as she headed back again, I stopped her with an outstretched hand and was shocked as a symbol appeared in the rock face at the intersection. With swirling ends and loops in all the wrong places, I recognised it as some kind of sigil to find one’s way home without anything to guide them by.
Chuckling darkly to myself, I relaxed with a few deep breaths and drew the sigil in the air in front of my eyes with deft fingers and the image of home crisp in my mind. Though the image shivered in the air as it always did, it faded too quickly to be of any use and crumbled to glowing dust on the floor.
With the key gone, I grumbled irately and tried it again, this time with no change at all. These kinds of spells required an empty mind and a clear conscience; I had neither of those.
“I have an idea, actually,” murmured the other girl, her eyes glistening. At her side, her light had faded to little more than a wisp as she made her suggestion, “What if we both have to draw the sigil for it to work? I mean, we were both standing right in front of the wall when it appeared, right?” Part of me hated that she had come up with the idea, but the other part simply nodded and started redrawing the symbol.
I could see everything in the tunnel by the glow of both our symbols, which was very good considering the fire had burnt itself out. Footsteps headed down the left and we both followed the glowing trail with baited breath. When we reached the tree roots this time, the glowing prints disappeared and we were thrust back into pitch darkness in the tunnel alone. Tapping my temple, I summoned the spell to see in the dark and crept forward as the girl was preparing her firefly charm. Carefully, I tapped the vines and they receded at my touch as though I’d electrocuted them; there was a static energy to the air as they shifted.
With them out of the way, a flight of stairs presented itself heading upward, and I whispered to the other girl, “Hey, just through there is a set of stairs. Maybe we’re at the end of the first trial.” Though I strained my voice with excitement, I was considering pushing her down if it did look like the end.
We climbed up several flights before light came into view, one little fleck at a time, and I no longer felt the urge to get rid of my competition. When we finally went through the doorway at the end, we staggered into a grand ballroom of sorts, with dozens of mats laid out in rows across one side and a small cluster of nervous-looking young people looking the worse for wear. The other girl immediately squealed and joined a couple others who embraced and chattered excitedly in the enormous room.
With traditional roman columns at regular intervals to hold up a vaulted ceiling, the room was an extravagant affair complete with marble tile floors and four absolutely enormous fireplaces crackling cheerfully. I wandered over to one side, picking at a large tear in my dress, and slid to the floor in exhaustion; I simply wanted to have a sleep and wake up to tackle the next test. Everyone here was in shock or the same state as I was or too overjoyed to stand still. A few had started a game of tag, which was being played through the mats and other statuesque contestants.
“Hello all,” boomed a voice from the corner, echoing right up to the ceiling. Every person in the room froze and stared at the exquisitely-dressed gentleman who’d entered. When he was standing in the center, having obviously decided beforehand on his graceful actions, he cleared his throat and addressed us all, “It is wonderful that you have all made it through the first part. We are, of course, waiting for a large portion of our contestants, but we’d like to begin the next stage in groups just to keep up more easily. The trials will begin in a couple of days, but there is a lot to be done before then,” he continued jovially, holding a roll of parchment in his manicured hand as though it were a sceptre.
After a short pause, he cleared his throat in the utter silence again, “So, this is where the forty of you will reside for the first couple of challenges; these mats will be your beds. One thing we’d like to do is send word to your next of kin that you made it through to the first trial. Now, I’ll read from the list and if you hear your name, please follow me to the confessional.” Three minutes later, “Vox, Artemis?” he asked in a dismal tone, having not chosen anyone who’d made it into the room yet.
I raised my hand and followed him briskly from the room, down the hall, and into a small room containing more windows than wall space.
“Alright Artemis, what would you like to tell your parents or siblings or anyone, really?” he asked, sitting down at a desk to take notes.
Without any thought to what I really wanted to say, I began with the words, “I lied.”
August wakes up in the middle of the voyage, finding the cabins hot. He tugs his boots on, heading to the deck for breakfast and, hopefully, a cool blast of air.
Unfortunately, it’s just as hot, if not hotter, on deck. He finds some of the crew at the kitchen. He sits down at a lone table, ignoring the fact that he’s the only one wearing a shirt, or at least, a sleeved one. Jack sits next to him, with his own plate.
“Aren’t you boiling?” Jack asks.
August looks up. “A little. But I’ve been in a desert. This isn’t so bad.”
Jack shrugs at the comment, scooping more corn into his mouth.
Later, with most of the chores done and half of the crew bored, someone suggests a wrestling match. August just watches from a high deck, but then can’t help but call out what a person did, or didn’t do, that ended with him pinned.
After a few rounds of this, Jack calls up, “Why don’t you show these scallawags how it’s done?”
August grins. He stands up, jumps over the railing, and rolls once he hits the deck. He stands up, looking around, “Well, who’s up for it?”
The last winner steps up. August and him, who he learned goes by Wells, grapple until August ends up on top of the larger man. He stands, offering a hand. Wells takes it, then goes to sit on a crate. August turns, finding another sailor ready to go. August takes him down after a little longer time than before.
He wipes at the back of his neck, ‘I’m not exerting myself that much, am I?’ Mocha had found the deck and is laying in what shade there is, her tongue sticking out and panting like a locomotive.
“Your not gettin’ too hot, are you August?” Jack asks. August shrugs it off, but then realizes that he is burning up a bit. He gets a glass of water from the kitchen, looking in the small mirror on the wall.
‘Suck it up, August,’ he chides himself, ‘are you that prideful?’ He walks back out, a little more refreshed. As he watches another match, he pulls his shirt over his head. He drops it next to Mocha, who sniffs at it a little before going back to sleeping.
August steps forward once the latest victor calls him to the center. August takes him on and when he’s done, he goes to sit down.
Not one person mentioned his scars. He observes the crew, watching for someone to look over at him. What glances he does get seem to have nothing to do with the old marks on his skin.
After all the wrestling is over and everyone took turns in the cold shower, August sits on deck with Jack again, this time with lunch. “…Why didn’t anyone bring up my scars?”
Jack looks at August, who still doesn’t have his shirt on. He watches August, as if he could read his mind, he states, “Every man has a past. And that past is his. Anyone that pries too much where they shouldn’t don’t deserve to hear the story. And anyone that almost catches heatstroke to hide it won’t want to answer questions.”
Jack goes back to his plate. August stews on that for a few minutes. “Do you want to know?”
“Hells yeah,” Jack says, spitting a little chewed food over the railing. He swallows, “Pardon my French. You’ve got a pair I’ve never seen before. Of course I’m curious. But the stranger the scars, the deeper the story, what I’ve come to know.”
August nods. He knows others -that he can thankfully now remember- that have strange scars as well. They both finish their plates, watching the water pass them on their way across the deep ocean.
“…Want me to tell you?”
“Don’t ask stupid questions, ninja-boy.”