Thursday, 26 July 2012

Chicago 4500, Part One

The helmeted young man piloted his yellow air taxi through the surging sky lanes over Chicago, zipping past the balconies of towering skyscrapers on his relatively low-level 100th-story route. Someone hailed the cab from the balcony of the historic Sears Tower, a quaint relic from an earlier age—now dwarfed by its 600-or-more-story contemporaries. As the young man maneuvered carefully through the lane separating him from his potential passenger, another air taxi cut him off, blocking his access to the balcony and taking the passenger. The young man honked his horn angrily and punched the radio power button. All seven lanes of traffic were now stopped at the red light suspended from cables stretched between two massive buildings.
Meanwhile, at the tallest building complex in Chicago (which, at a soaring height of 12,384 feet, was now vying for the title of world’s tallest building) a vast space cruiser was docking at an upper-level walkway. The complex’s lakefront setting made it an ideal location for a landing area, as it was one of the only urban-access sites with enough open space to land the enormous tourist cruisers and cargo vessels. The only boats on the lake were those of retirees: a popular retirement option was to buy a large houseboat and live on the lake. With access to Michigan’s wild, forested preserves, beaches, bustling Chicago, or ancient Milwaukee, the houseboat life was ideal for active centenarians. Even the more vigorous sesquicentenarians could sometimes be seen on the lake, leisurely fishing off their front porches.
As the dramatic orange and purple sunset became the backdrop of the space cruiser landing, it silhouetted the huge ship and the twin spires between which it docked. The city began to light up in varying hues, competing with the colorful horizon. As the sky faded from purple to deep blue to black, the stars were surpassed by the bright lights of the city. Even the moon, which now shone full over Chicago, paled in comparison to the radiance of the skyscrapers.
Deep below the rushing sky lanes, in the shady Chicago understory, a sleeping humanoid figure was hunched under a ground level window inside one of the towers. Here, more than two miles below the tips of the soaring buildings, the gritty pavement had fallen out of use centuries ago as the old forms of transportation died out. A potholed, cracked cement surface was all that remained of the once-traffic-filled roadways. Dirt and grime, however, were not the only things that thrived on the understory.
As dusk fell on the skyline, the sleeping figure stirred and woke. An eerie glow from the bright upper levels was the only light that shone on this part of the understory, where electricity was scarce. The man-like creature rose to its feet, shaking the dark, thick blanket from its shoulders. It was short and hunched, at a height of only four-and-a-half feet, and extremely pale, with wide eyes that consisted almost entirely of inky black pupils. Its fingers were long, ending in long, rough, grimy nails. A single short, black garment covered it from throat to thigh. The creature reached underneath the blanket to retrieve a grayish pack and a long black coat from a small trapdoor directly below the spot where it had been sleeping. Donning the coat and pulling up the hood, which covered all of the face but the black eyes, the creature rose once again, pack in hand, and began to make its way out into the dark, canyon-like street.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

June 8th, 1863

As I wake from another nightmare, I am blindsided by the realization that reality is little better than the dreadful, shapeless but fear-filled dreams. The shadow cast by the hat rack in the corner of my bedroom becomes the menacing silhouette of a hostile Yankee soldier; every movement outside is the enemy coming to burn our house down. Surrounded by these twisted caricatures of my imagination, I am a prisoner in my own home.
Last night, after waking in the middle of the night soaked in a cold sweat, I reached for the silver pitcher of water sitting on my dark wood bedside table to get a drink to calm my jumpy nerves. I knocked the pitcher onto the hardwood floor, and its earsplitting crash scared me half to death. Our live-in servant, Tethys Jackson, came running to make sure I hadn’t fallen. She quietly called my name as she picked her way carefully across the vine-patterned rug, taking care not to tread on any of the vines. On account of having raised me from infancy, she is always concerned for me, and she was afraid, she told me, that someone had snuck into my room. Her face, lit up by the bright Mississippi moon so that it was almost the same color as mine, was full of anxiety. I could see then that she had the same fears as I do: what if a Yankee sneaks into the house to raid it, or worse, take advantage of one of us? My eight-year-old brother Sterling is now the only male left (aside from the Negro workers, who live in small cabins near the edge of the field) on our little plantation, after my father died and Quincy, my older brother, left to fight in the Confederate Army. What if he doesn’t come back from the war?
Now I hope to write myself to sleep, and try to make myself forget my fears. But what can I write about besides those things that I am dreading? Or perhaps I can keep myself awake till sunrise, if there can be a sunrise during this terrible war. Surely it will be morning soon. The moon is still bright, casting more shadows: my dresser, dark wood like the rest of my furniture, and the mirror attached to the top vaguely resemble a man’s misshapen form. The flowers in my west-facing window look sickly and pale in the colorless moonlight, and their shadow on my thick, quilted bedspread looks like a disembodied hand. I shudder and quickly look away, as if staring at it will make it come to life and begin creeping across my bed. A breeze flutters the light summer curtains that Tethys hung last week, and the shadows remind me of the restless spirits in her ghost stories.
At long last, my eyelids are getting heavy. The blue flowers painted onto my wall near the ceiling are blurring together. Perhaps I will finally sleep.
Cordelia Carmichael

Notes on the story and naming characters:
This is a piece that I wrote for an English class. The assignment was to put ourselves in a different time period and describe our "sleeping quarters." As you can tell, for my setting, I chose somewhere in the South during the Civil War, and had my character describe her surroundings in a nightmarish way, in relation to the way she's been living, with her brother and father away fighting. 
Although writing the piece itself was interesting, one of the most enjoyable parts for me is naming the characters. I am very picky about naming the characters. The name has to fit the character and their personality--for example, you simply cannot call a down-to-earth, humble teenage girl "Vanadia" (which is a name that I am, in fact, using in a story) unless she has a shorter nickname or goes only by her surname (a great example of this is Nymphadora Tonks in Harry Potter, who of course only goes by the name of Tonks). The name "Vanadia" goes with a more grown-up, powerful woman, perhaps an ambitious world leader, or even a maniacal super-villain. The names are also fun if they somehow tie into the setting. I particularly enjoy the way Suzanne Collins names her characters in The Hunger Games trilogy. The Capitol characters tend to have Roman or Romanesque names (i.e. Coriolanus, Flavius, Octavia, Messalla); I have always connected the Capitol with the Roman Empire--the gladiatorial Hunger Games competition and the Bread and Circuses references being the main ties. Some of the characters from the surrounding districts have names that connect to their home district's main industry (Glimmer and Marvel from the district that makes luxury items; Wiress from the technology district). When I am writing a story, I am almost obsessive in my character-naming. The name has to fit. I am a frequenter of baby-name websites, which interest me endlessly due the amount of ridiculous, unique, culturally-varied, and abstract names. Most of them I would never even think of giving to a child; however I take no issue to giving some of them to a character. The names I use in a story almost always have been researched, and I always put a lot of thought into naming my characters. The only time you will ever see a John Q. Public from Anytown, Ohio in my stories is if there is actually a man whose identity is protected or unknown.