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.
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.