I had originally planned to start with a frame and then work forward from it, but I decided that it wasn’t something I was really up to: I wanted to keep the cohesion of form that I had going and not take it away from, and by the time I finished writing the frame that I was going to use it became almost a full story in and of itself (a very short one, about 600 words, but one that nonetheless needs no expansion).
So, without further ado, let’s begin:
Image 1: Aerial photo of hills with roads running along what appear to be their crests.
He thought of all the times he had been out in the Golden Valley. He wasn’t sure why they called it that; they had never found gold there, and the hills were verdant and living with plants that cast it in almost a dark forest hue. When he’d gotten the word that there had been an accident, he wasn’t sure what he’d do.
He showed up at the site as soon as possible, watched the flames from a safe distance. The whole place had gone up, and the factory was definitely a loss.
“Did everyone get out?”
He thanked his luck. They had always been serious about safety, but the fire looked horrendous from where he stood.
“We don’t know yet.”
There was never a good time for your life’s work to go up in flames, but at least it was just his work and not people. He thought back to the fire from his youth, the one that had left him homeless for a while. If it hadn’t been for his father, he would have died in the smoke. He didn’t have the same bravery, wasn’t about to go rushing into a burning building.
Besides, the damage was done.
They would never be able to deliver on their promises now.
It was enough to make him sick to his stomach.
Image 2: A woman holding bunches of pine needles.
Lao felt the needle go into his shoulder, the cold metal and liquid contrasting with the burning in his skin as they moved.
If his understanding was correct, there was nothing to be sorry for. Just two weeks and he could be walking planetside instead of floating around the station.
It had been hard to convince the committee to let him go down first. There were questions about the terrestrial sample, how it had displayed such unusual phenomena. Then they wanted to know why one of their leading biotech researchers should be the one to go, instead of a less important volunteer.
He’d threatened to quit his post and work in food service for the rest of his life. He’d have enjoyed it, too, which is why they caved in. There was a zen to feeding people, which was the whole point of his scientific research. But you could do that in any number of ways.
Once they understood he was serious, they approved his application.
“But you come back up on the shuttle if you display any symptoms.”
It was the only way to secure their agreement, so he let himself submit to that condition.
Two weeks later, strapping into the harness, he realized that it would be the first time he was in actual gravity.
His wife and kids had to stay above; nobody knew if the kids had the X-factor that would let them survive down there, but neither he nor Leila had it until the experiment.
Image 3: A field with several horses.
The dome’s biosphere welcomed him with open arms. He was careful to control the euphoria he felt; the simulated gravity and a draconian exercise regimen had kept him in good enough shape to go planetside, but the air had a different taste to it and the sheer scale of the dome’s sky made him feel like he had been released from a prison.
There had been a small welcoming committee, people he’d never gotten a chance to meet personally, but who he’d worked with for years.
He was certain it wasn’t just a spontaneous event, though there was something to be said for the convivial human spirit and the triumph of the event. The fact that a trauma cart had been placed next to the shuttle pad airlock spoke to the fear that everyone felt.
And, for a moment, he felt lightheaded, seeing things that weren’t there. There were horses in the central field of the dome, where the individual and family habitats had been erected. They milled about, roaming the territory. He rubbed his eyes and they went away.
The only horses out here were in recordings saved to the archives of media from Earth.
He felt like he should mention the vision to someone, but the trauma cart lingered behind him with silent menace. He said nothing.
Image 4: Sand dunes at dusk.
The first stars in the night sky appeared above us, and I knew that it was good.
We’d made our way out here to find our destiny. There was only so much that we could do back in servitude, and here we knew what it meant to be free.
Was it worth it?
I was always a man of faith. Today’s hunger was a preparation for tomorrow’s feast, and we’d been told that God was on our side.
As far as I can tell, He was and He remains.
But that is not true of everyone.
I don’t necessarily blame them for their lack of faith. Out here in this barren land, I could understand fear. I could even understand coming to the conclusion that there is nothing out there, nothing to find in the distance or in the near, like we’ve left the world and gone into the void again.
But as I watch the sands curve on the horizon, the mounds forming up live the waves of the sea, the process of a moment captured in the permanence of the desert, I have faith. Beauty cannot create itself, it has to be made, and there is nothing that bears the mark of a maker like the sands around us and the night sky above us.
The sun is about to set, and I will welcome the rest. Tomorrow, we will continue.
Image 5: A forest with patches of snow and grass on the ground. Tall trees rise up out of the frame.
Where is the winter’s breath?
We find it here, in the forest.
Where is the spring’s pulse?
We feel it here, in the forest.
Where is the summer’s light?
We see it here, in the forest.
Where is the harvest’s beauty?
We see it here, in the forest.
He recited the lines half-heartedly. There wasn’t necessarily anything untrue in them, but the young man had grown tired of life out here. The emphasis on the beauty of things didn’t strike him as particularly prudent, especially when the cold air poured through the cracks of cabins built by people who had decided that deprivation was the path to virtue.
Edward had already decided that he was going to leave. It wasn’t the place for him. He pulled his coat around himself and lit the lantern. It was bright enough to see, but he was planning to be out for his walk for a while, and wasn’t sure if he’d be back before dark. It wasted oil to light it now, but he didn’t want to fiddle with it.
As he walked he asked himself questions. Why was he even here in the first place?
It had been chic, he supposed. A return to nature, a more pure time. You could get away from the evils of society.
But it was all a fiction. He hadn’t become a better person, hadn’t conquered his demons.
He’d only separated himself.
Some things to note here: I’m experimenting with transitions in the Lao story when we jump from off-world to strapping into the harness to go to the planet, then again on planet. I think in a finished story I’d deliberately leave them that way, though that might be certainty from lack of retrospection.
The final short snippet was drawn from the Transcendentalist movement, or more specifically Nathaniel Hawthorne’s experiences on the communes with the Transcendentalists and his rejection of their philosophy. I could see it as something that could be interesting.
I’ve noticed that a very distinctive element of my style is the parallel repetition that I use very reflexively in many places, most notably: “He hadn’t become a better person, hadn’t conquered his demons.”
I’m not sure what it means that I don’t see other writers do this so much. It could mean that it’s an awful horrible way to do things, but it could also just be a distinctive quirk that marks my work. I typically edit these out anyway, and it’s not something I do all the time. It does definitely happen more often when I write under time pressure.